Sand eel

Sand eel

Scientific name: Many species, including Ammodytes tobianus
Sand eels are a hugely important part of our marine ecosystem. In fact, the fledgling success of our breeding seabirds entirely depends on them.

Species information


Length: species vary in size. Lesser sandeel up to 20cm.

Conservation status

Common. The lesser sand eel is a a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

September to April


"Sand eel" actually covers a whole load of different small fish species, all in the sand lance family. They are distinctively slender with a pointed snout - giving them an eel-like shape. Between April and September they swim in large shoals close to the seabed and will burrow into the sand to escape predators. In the winter months, they bury themselves up to 50cm in the sand. They are an incredibly important part of the marine ecosystem and are a favourite food of puffins, harbour porpoises, terns, pollack and mackerel. Ever spotted a puffin with a beak full of skinny silver fish? They are sand eels. You may sometimes see their name written as sandeel. They feed on plankton - mainly copepods, a type of tiny planktonic crustacean.

How to identify

A small eel-like silver fish, seen swimming in large shoals near the seabed in the summer months. Most commonly seen in the beaks of puffins or terns during the breeding season.


Found all around UK coasts.

Did you know?

Sand eels are not eels at all - they just look a lot like an eel thanks to their long, slender shape.