Adventures in Ethics and Science


Younger offspring: Can I tell you something awesome?

Dr. Free-Ride: OK.

Younger offspring: I touched every sea creature today, even the monkeyface pickleback eel.

Dr. Free-Ride: But you didn’t have a field trip today. How were there sea creatures for you to touch?

Younger offspring: We went to the library and the sea creatures were there.

Dr. Free-Ride: The school library?


Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: Why were the sea creatures in the library?

Younger offspring: People brought them there in water. The water was in buckets.

Dr. Free-Ride: Was it just a normal scheduled visit to the library and there happened to be sea creatures there?

Younger offspring: No, we knew there were sea creatures there because …

Dr. Free-Ride: Was it a special kindergarten event?

Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, did the people who brought these sea creatures to the school library know lots of things about them?

Younger offspring: Uh huh. They didn’t rob them! I think they were people from the Marine Mammal Center.

Dr. Free-Ride: Even though none of the creatures they brought to the library were actually marine mammals?

Younger offspring: They still know a lot about them. They brought creatures that they found near land in the Pacific Ocean and they drove them here from San Francisco.

Dr. Free-Ride: Did you ask them any questions about the creatures they brought with them?

Younger offspring: No.

Dr. Free-Ride: Why not?

Younger offspring: I was mostly interested in looking at them and touching them.

Dr. Free-Ride: So what creatures did you touch?


Younger offspring: I touched sea stars and a hermit crab.

Dr. Free-Ride: Cool.

Younger offspring: Also, I touched the sea anemone and it closed up.

Dr. Free-Ride: Neat.

Younger offspring: And I touched the monkeyface pickleback eel.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s quite a name.

Younger offspring: Actually, I can’t remember if it’s monkeyface pickleback eel or monkeyface prickleback eel.

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. Was its back more like pickles or prickers?

Younger offspring: Maybe it’s a monkeyface porkerback eel.

Dr. Free-Ride: Huh?

Younger offspring: Or a monkeyface pygmyback eel.

Dr. Free-Ride: What?!

Younger offspring: Or a monkeyface piggyback eel!

Dr. Free-Ride: I am so confused! Are you saying the creature you touched is somehow part pig, part monkey, and part eel?

Younger offspring: No, I’m just kidding.

* * * * *


A wee bit of research reveals that there is a creature (Cebidichthys violaceus) that is variously called “monkeyface eel” and “prickleback”. (More information on this site, which is also the source of the photo at the left.) I don’t know whether the eel in the library was full grown (which would make it about 2 feet long), but I will allow as how it looks like an awesome creature to pet, even if one is no longer in kindergarten.

The search string “pickleback eel” turned up some results, but nothing that looked as authoritative as the “prickleback” results. Maybe it’s a variant that has its root in presentations to kindergarteners.


The eel’s back does appear prickly, but this face (in a drawing from this site) isn’t really screaming “monkey” to me. To me, it looks like an eel face (although admitedly a jowly eel). Are there monkeyface eels whose faces are more monkeyish? (Are there monkeys whose faces are more eel-like?) Or, is the “monkey” in monkeyface eel a corruption of some word that sounds like “monkey” and better describes the countenance of this eel?