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Facts About Moray Eels

Updated on May 31, 2012
Snoflake Moray Eel - Kona, Hawaii
Snoflake Moray Eel - Kona, Hawaii | Source

Moray eels are different from other eels in the way that they can survive in brackish water and have a very distinct head-shape and jawline. Morays can be found in places all over the world and include over 500 species of eel.

The longest and shortest morays range from 4.5 inches to almost 10 feet in length, while the largest of the species can grow to be almost 80 pounds. This article will explore what makes morays one of the most popular eels to study.


Types of Moray Eels

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Scientific Name  
Fun Fact  
Freshwater Moray Eel
Gymnothorax polyuranodon
Large spots and big teeth best illustrate this moray
Pacific and Indian Oceans
Survives in Brackish water
Giant Moray Eel
Gymnothorax javanicus
Tan with black spots that grows darker over time
9.8 Ft
Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, Hawaii
Largest moray eel that weighs over 66 lbs.
Mosaic Moray Eel
Enchelycore ramosa
Colorful patches along the body
6 ft.
New Zealand
Largest moray of the Enchelycore genus
Muraena Moray Eel
Smooth skin with whiskers
5 ft.
Mediterranean Sea
The Romans treated this eel like a delicacy and was kept in ponds for easy cooking
Slender Giant Moray Eel
Strophidon sathete
13 Ft
Indo-West Pacific Ocean, Red Sea, East Africa, Pacific Ocean
Has coloring that intimidates predators and is the longest moray eel
Snowflake Moray Eel
Echidna nebulosa
white with brown, fuzzy spots
36 in.
Crustaceans, Shellfish, Krill, Shrimp, Octopus
Indo-Pacific, Baja, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Hawaii
Teeth are blunt and hard, not sharp like other morays' teeth
Snyder's Moray Eel
Anarchias leucurus
Also known as the Fine-spotted Moray, it has many spots over its small body
4.5 in
Pacific Ocean
The smallest species of moray
Taiwanese Barbel Moray
Cirrimaxilla formosa
166 mm.
Pingtung, Taiwan
Only found in one location
Zebra Moray Eel
Gymnomuraena zebra
White with black stripes like a zebra
4.9 ft.
Crustaceans, Shellfish
Indo-Pacific, Hawaii, Baja, Mexico, Columbia
Teeth are blunt and hard, not sharp like other morays' teeth
Snyder's Moray Eel
Snyder's Moray Eel | Source

Moray Eel Eating Habits

Moray Eels tend to eat the meat of other fish while only a handful of species are known to be omnivorous (eating only plants). Some species, like the snowflake moray and the zebra moray eat fish and crustaceans with hard exoskeletons, while others, like the giant moray, can eat fish up to 3 feet in length.

Morays have been known to team up with other fish to capture prey. While the moray pushes the prey through small, coral crevasses much like a dog herding sheep, the fish wait on the outside to strike the prey. They then share the capture making this symbiotic relationship other inter-species relationships known at this point.

Muraena Moray Eel
Muraena Moray Eel | Source

Moray Eel Anatomy

Morays have very small eyes, which cause them to rely on their impeccable sense of smell to navigate through water. These eels, much like snakes, have Pharyngeal jaws. This means that their lower jaw is curved and hinged to the top so they have the ability to swallow prey whole. This jaw allows them to clamp down quickly on their prey and keep it in their mouth as they push it down into their stomachs.

Morays have dorsal fins and sometimes anal fins (fins located on the bottom of the body). Their skeleton consists of many bones in the skull region and a long spine. This shape allows them to deform their body to fit into many different positions.

Snowflake Moray Eel
Snowflake Moray Eel | Source

How do moray eels stay in the rocks?

Moray eels have a thick mucus surrounding their body that allows them to coat the sides of hole walls, thus, securing them in the hole. This causes the hole to be more permanent and acts much like an anchor when striking at prey. The moray does not move as quickly when swimming backward, so they use this mucus to hold them in the hole as their body acts like a spring when extending out of the hole for lunch.


Would you put a moray eel in your home aquarium?

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Can I put a moray eel in my aquarium?

If you find a moray eel that is under two feet, chances are that you can put it in your aquarium, though many discourage it. The ratio of moray length to tank length is approximately 3 ft.:4 ft. If you are considering keeping a moray, be sure to make the tank as wide as possible to assure that the moray is comfortable.

Morays are generally well-tempered, but can cause serious injuries if an accident does occur. A zebra moray eel is the most recommended eel for a home aquarium. One of my favorite restaurants in Hawaii has a zebra moray in their aquarium. They are beautifully patterned and are known to be a calmer species of moray.


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