Rare species of blind, underground eel found in well of house

underground eel
The fish resembling an earthworm was discovered in Pandalam while cleaning a well.

Pala: A unique species of underground eel has been discovered by the faculty of the Zoology Department at St Thomas College here from the well of a house. Jomy B Samuel of Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district was cleaning the well on his house premises when he noticed a strange creature resembling an earthworm. Curious, Jomy contacted the Zoology Department of St Thomas College, Pala and faculty from the institution Mathew Thomas, Dr Jayesh Antony, Dr Pratheesh Mathew and Ann Susan Mathew carried out an elaborate study which identified the creature as the Malabar swamp eel.

This rarely-seen eel belongs to the synbranchidae family and has the scientific name Raktamikthis indicus. The Pala college faculty later consulted Dr Rajeev Raghavan, a professor and fish taxonomist at Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies and confirmed their findings.

Malabar swamp eel, also referred to ‘Maninjeel’, is among the three eels of the Raktamikthis genus among the eight subterranean fish species found in Kerala. These fish belonging to the eel variety live in streams and springs, at places where laterite stone is present. However, these species have lost their eyes and fins due to evolutionary causes. Scientists say sightings of these fish above the ground are extremely rare. The fish is named as ‘Raktamikthis’ as it has the colour of ‘raktam’, which is the Malayalam word for blood and a fully-grown eel extends to a length of 20-25 cm. However, mystery surrounds the food habits, behavioral characteristics and reproduction of these eels. Further scientific studies are continuing to learn more about these strange creatures.

In normal cases, the swamp eels are killed by people mistaking them for snakes or earthworms.

The specimen found from Jomy Samuel’s well is now kept at the museum of Zoology Department, St Thomas College, Pala.

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