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A mysterious fang-toothed creature was discovered last week on the Gulf Coast of Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Preeti Desai, a social media manager for the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit bird conservation group, was assessing the damage of Harvey when she spotted the decomposing creature in Texas City, Texas. She then posted several pictures of it on Twitter to learn its identity.
"Okay, biology twitter, what the heck is this?? Found on a beach in Texas City, TX. #wildlifeid," Desai wrote on Twitter. "This thing wasn't frightening, wasn't colossal, and wasn't a monster. It was just a d— sea creature trying to live its life."
Several experts on Twitter struggled to identify the fish.
"Hard to tell given position and decomposition, but teeth and body shape makes me think some kind of eel," Andrew Thaler, a marine science and conservation consultant, wrote in a tweet. "In the second photo, it looks like something from a horror movie. Other users commented with thoughts like "it looks like something from a horror movie" and "First glance? Maybe blacktail moray."
Biologist Dr. Kenneth Tighe of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was able to answer Desai's question after the request was passed along to him. Tighe believed the creature to be an Aplatophis chauliodus, which is also known as a fangtooth snake-eel or tusky eel. The toothy creature's scientific name translates to "terrible serpent."
"It might be [a] Bathyuroconger vicinus or Xenomystax congroides," Tighe told EarthTouch News on Thursday. "All three of these species occur off Texas and have large fang-like teeth. Too bad you can't clearly see the tip of the tail. That would differentiate between the ophichthid and the congrids."
The eel appears to be without a face, possessing no visible eyes or visible nose. It's a part of the Ophichthinae family, meaning snake eels.
"It was completely unexpected, it's not something that you'd typically see on a beach," Desai told BBC. "I thought it could be something from the deep sea that might have washed on to shore.
"My main reaction was curiosity, to figure out what the heck it was. 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."
Desai, instead of alerting local authorities, let nature take its course. She left the animal behind to decompose. When a fangtooth eel decays, its squishy tissues are the first thing to perish. It's still hard to determine whether Desai's discovery was beached because of Harvey. Since fangtooth snake-eels often live in shallow waters, they can wash up on beaches even without storms.
A representative for Tighe did not immediately return International Business Times' request for comment.
This toothy creature is primarily found in the Western Atlantic. This would include regions ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to French Guiana. It occupies waters between 30 and 90 meters deep, but it will reside in permanent or semi-permanent burrows as it seeks other fishes and crustaceans for consumption.
The beached fangtooth snake-eel stands out for having very small eyes, which can be seen by examining where the snout meets its head.
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