As Twitter chittered with spooked speculation over the poor sea creature, a Smithsonian biologist provides an explanation.
It's not the first time to have happened; a mysterious something is found washed ashore and the crowd goes wild. There are usually hints of alien or sea monster; in the end, it usually ends up being the decayed remains of something recognizable, or, just one of the endless creatures living in the inky wilds that most of us just don't know of.
In the case of the many-toothed and faceless carcass forced to shore by hurricane Harvey, the answer is one of the latter: Although some might say that a "fangtooth snake-eel" – the creature in question – may still be more alien or sea monster, I think it's incredible looking and is clearly a creature who has adapted perfectly to live in the environs it calls home ... which would be in muddy burrows 100 to 300 feet below the surface of the sea.
The photos that made the rounds were taken by Preeti Desai, a social media manager at the National Audubon Society, who had gone with conservationists to assess the damage from the storm. The animal was spotted on a beach in Texas City, 15 miles from Galveston.
Of her Twitter sleuthing, Desai told BBC News: “I follow a lot of scientists and researchers. There's such a great community of these folks that are very helpful, especially when it comes to answering questions about the world or identifying animals and plants.”
Someone recommended Kenneth Tighe, a biologist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Tighe, an eel expert, believes that the creature is most likely a fangtooth snake-eel Aplatophis chauliodus). Although it could possible also be a large-toothed conger (Bathyuroconger vicinus) or a bristletooth conger (Xenomystax congroides).
“All three of these species occur off Texas and have large fang-like teeth,” Tighe told Earth Touch News. “Too bad you can't clearly see the tip of the tail. That would differentiate between the ophichthid and the congrids.”
Unfortunately, the snake-eel was deceased upon discovery. I'm not sure sure it would have received the same frantic rescue efforts that were afforded to the stranded manatees and dolphins, but I'd like to think so. Aplatophis chauliodus' fate was left to the elements that brought it there in the first place; Desai told BBC News that she left the dead eel alone to "let nature take its course."
RIP, fangtooth snake-eel.