They usually are found in swamps, caves, and sluggish fresh and brackish waters. When found in pools, they typically are associated with leaf litter and mats of fine tree roots along the banks. Swamp eels are capable of overland excursions, and some can live out of water for extended periods of time. Some species are burrowers. Four species are found exclusively in caves: Monopterus eapeni and M. roseni from India, Ophisternon candidum from Australia, and O. infernale from Mexico. One species, O. bengalense, commonly occurs in coastal areas of southeastern Asia.

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