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No ‘transparent creatures’ in tap water – but boiling water first is still good advice

A meme going around Facebook in Nigeria shows photos of transparent fish-like creatures with the warning: “Be careful before drinking tap water.”

It says: “These are transparent creatures found in water. Be careful if you are drinking tap or stream water without boiling it.

“Always boil your water before drinking. Please forward this message to everyone, especially to those who drink tap water.”



Transparent baby eels live in the ocean


The see-through creatures are in fact immature sea eels in the “leptocephalus” larval stage, during which they are transparent and flat. (“Leptocephalus” comes from the Greek and Latin for “flat head”.)

Marine eels and their relatives in the Elopomorpha superorder all go through this early transparent stage.

They look transparent because they’re made up of “jelly-like substances on the inside, with a thin layer of muscle with membranes on the outside”, says SciTech Daily.

In his 2009 article on the “Remarkable transparent fish larvae of the ocean surface layer”, author Michael J Miller says the eel larvae “grow much larger than typical fish larvae”.

They can range from 5 centimetres to 30 centimetres – the length of a school ruler. And they look so different from their adult forms that “for about a century they were thought to be a unique type of marine fish”.

Coca-Cola hoax using the same photos


In 2016 Snopes debunked a hoax that used the same photos of the eel larvae. This time the claim was that Coca-Cola had recalled much of its Dasani bottled water – sold in the US – after the “transparent creatures” were found in the bottles.

Coca-Cola denied that it had issued a recall, saying the “source of the hoax was false”.

According to Snopes, the US Food and Drug Administration said they were “unaware of any recalls associated with the Dasani water bottles”.

Sea eel larvae won’t find their way into your tap


Africa Check asked Process Water Technologies, a South African company that purifies dirty water, if the eel larvae could end up in tap water.

Colin Basch, the company’s MD, said it wasn’t at all likely. That’s because the immature eels live in the sea – not rivers and dams, where tap water comes from.

And if they did land up in water headed for taps, normal water purification processes would get rid of them.

In Basch’s words: “Based on the strict treatment process of the water involved and the fact that the ‘creatures’ are normally ocean bound, it is highly unlikely that these would appear in potable water from taps.”

“Potable” water is water that’s safe to drink.

Unlikely to be found in taps anywhere


Tap water first goes through screening, chlorination and other treatment processes, Basch said, “before being piped to the various domestic suppliers which supply the tap water to the public”.

He said most municipal water suppliers would use similarly strict treatment processes, and it was unlikely that the “transparent creatures” would be found in tap water anywhere in the world.

Do boil unsafe water – or clean it in other ways


You’re unlikely to get baby eels in your tap water, but the meme still has good advice.

If you’re not sure about the quality of the water coming out of your tap, don’t hesitate to boil it before you drink it.

“Boiling the water generally kills pathogens, viruses and bacteria,” Basch said.

And never drink water from a river unless you purify it first.

According to Water Wise, there are five easy ways to purify water:

Don’t be afraid of “transparent creatures” in your tap water.

But, as the meme says, do “be careful” of drinking unsafe water before boiling it. – Taryn Willows (23/05/19)

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