Contrary to its name, the wolf eel is not an eel at all. This slender, snakelike creature is actually in the wolffish family and not nearly as menacing as its moniker implies. It is typically a gentle, slow-moving fish.
The wolf eel has two pectoral fins just behind its large, bumpy head. Another fin on its back extends the length of its long body. Its broad mouth is full of sharp, snaggleteeth. When full grown, wolf eels are about 8 feet long.
Adults are mottled gray with small, dark spots from head to tail. As juveniles, the fish are an almost unrecognizable fiery red to burnt orange. Wolf eels are native to the North Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Japan to islands off the coast of Alaska and the coast of southern California.
They inhabit rocky reefs and coastal seabeds, where they tuck into caves and crevices leaving only their heads exposed. Adults feed on hard-shelled invertebrates, such as crabs, clams, urchins, mussels and snails. Unlike many species of fish that swallow their food whole, wolf eels use their canines and molars to crush and chew food.
It is believed that wolf eels mate for life. Females lay about 10,000 eggs within a den, where they are guarded by both parents. The female periodically rotates the eggs until they hatch, circulating the surrounding water to sustain their oxygen supply.
Mated wolf eel pairs share the same den year after year, unless a larger wolf eel or encroaching octopus forces them to relocate.
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