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Moray eel

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Moray eel
Spotted eel.jpg
Scientific Classification
Snowflake Moray Eel
Snowflake moray eel.jpg

Moray Eels are any of the slender, marine species of eels which make up family Muraenidae. They are typically found hiding in the coral reefs of tropical seas or the rocky shallows of temperate seas. There are about 200 known species of moray eels and the color of their skin can vary greatly from muddy browns to fluorescent purples to black with white spots.[1]They are sometimes called the painted eel because of this. These curious, nocturnal predators maneuver swiftly through their rocky environment in search of good hiding places. They spend most of their time concealed in their lairs, sleeping or waiting for prey to come by. Often mistaken for fierce "sea monsters", morays eels are actually quite timid and will only attack when provoked. They can live up to 30 years or longer depending on their environment.


the pharyngeal jaw of a moray eel

There are nearly 200 different types of moray eels around the world, but they all share several things in common. Most morays are about 1.5 meters long however some have been known to grow as long as 4 meters in length.[2] Morays come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. The coloration of their skin and the shapes of their fins and nostrils help them camouflage with their environment. For example, the blue ribbon eel's nostrils are shaped like aquatic plant leaves to help it blend in. All moray eels posses a long spine which gives them their snakelike body and allows these aquatic vertebrates to maneuver forwards and backwards through the water with a serpentine motion. Unlike most fish who use suction to capture their prey, moray eels have a unique, second jaw which allows them to drag their prey into their mouth. The pharyngeal jaw (pharyngeal meaning near the pharynx), located deep within the throat, snaps forward and clamps down on the prey once the first jaw has a firm grip. The eel will then relax its first jaw and pull the prey into its throat using its pharyngeal jaw.[3] Eels have sharp, curved canine teeth which enables them to latch onto their prey with a firm grip. Some eels, like the Atlantic Green Moray Eel, even come equipped with a third row of teeth on the roof of their mouth. Bacteria forms on the insides of their mouths and this can easily cause an infection from a bite wound. A tall dorsal fin runs the length of a moray eels back and is joined with a smaller caudal fin (or tail fin) which runs from the bottom of the tail and ends halfway along the underside of the body. They lack pectoral fins and thus lack vertical stability. It is not uncommon for them to drift lazily on their side. Two small, circular gills located behind the mouth allow the moray eel to breath. Morays continually open and close their mouths in order to pump water through their gills. [4] Eels also have a layer of mucus which coats their thick, scale-less skin in order to protect them from germs and parasites; in some species this mucus is [toxic]. This mucus also assists them in maneuvering quickly and painlessly through the rough edges of coral reefs. [5] The tubular nostrils spotted on moray eels are believed to help them detect prey. Having poor [eyesight] and hearing, they rely mostly on their sense of smell to alert them of prey and other marine animals.


Moray eels reproduce sexually during the summer months of June and July when the water is warm. They are believed to be hermaphroditic, and thus have both male and female parts. [6]. In order to mate, two eels will intertwine with one another. The sperm will mix with the eggs and fertilize them. Once fertilized, the eggs will drift in the water for a short period of time before forming into an eel larva. These tiny, transparent larvae are referred to as leptocephali. [7] They are about 3 inches in length with thin bodies. The inside of their bodies is filled with a jelly -like substance covered in a thin layer of muscle. Since they lack red blood cells until they developed into adults, their bodies are clear and transparent. This feature makes them harder to spot. Leptocephali will drift in the water among the plankton for a period of about eight months before they begin to grow into something that resembles a miniature adult. During their period of drifting, the eel larvae do not feed on plankton, but instead they feast on detritus particles floating in the ocean referred to as marine snow. They will continue growing until they are a fully developed adult.


Moray eels can be found hiding among the caves and crevices of coral reefs and rocky shallows of temperate and tropical seas. [8] They are known to be territorial and will fiercely protect their homes; however they are not normally aggressive and have been described by divers as curious and gentle. It is still ill advised that one goes poking their hand into the cracks and crevices of a reef. Occasionally some morays will share their lairs with other eels of the same type or even different eels. Morays are nocturnal hunters. Their sense of smell is key when it comes to detecting prey.[9] In order to catch its prey, a moray eel will wait patiently inside one of its hiding places until a fish or crustacean comes by. The eel will then snap forward with incredibly fast reflexes and snatch up its unsuspecting victim. Morays usually prey on fish, crabs, squids, octopi, and sometimes they will even eat other eels.[10] Moral eels have been known to become prey to other eels, groupers, and humans. In some countries such as Japan, morays eels have become a common meal.

Keeping Morays as Pets

Keeping a moray eel as a pet can prove a difficult challenge. Almost 90% are not suitable for aquarium life since they may be too aggressive and unwilling to adjust.[11] They may also grow very large and therefore require a tank big enough to suit their needs. Eels such as the Zebra moray eel, Chainlink moray eel, Snowflake moray eel, Starry moray eel, Diamond Back moray eel, Banded moray eel, Dragon moray eel, Leopard moray eel, Gray moray eel, Jewel moray eel, Golden Tail moray eel, Spotted moray eel, and White-Eyed moray eel are best suited for aquarium life.[12] These species usually grow under three feet and are able to fit in a smaller tank than their relatives. The snowflake moray only grows about 40 inches and it can become rather tame, as a result these are the best first choice when it comes to keeping morays as pets.[13] Before purchasing a moray, once should make sure that the moray eel is eating first, because if it's not eating in the store than it most likely will not eat in a home aquarium. Moray eels will readily eat any manner of frozen fish or crustaceans. Adults should be fed twice a week but juvenile morays need to be fed twice a week until they have matured. It is possible feed the eels by hand, but it is highly ill-advised. Moray eels may become frenzied when feeding, and they have a very nasty bite. It is possible to keep a well fed moray in the same tank as smaller fish, but there will always be a risk that they may eat the other fish.[14] Make sure the tank covers are secure because moray eels will try to escape. They will escape through any hole they can squeeze their head through, so one must take extra care in preventing this. [15] If an eel feels over crowded by a small tank it is more likely to try to make an escape. The height of the tank doesn't matter as much as the length and width. These factors depend on what type of moray inhabits the tank. A tank that is 4 feet long is recommended and make the tank as wide as possible. Be sure to decorate that tank so that the eel has at least one or more hiding places. The water should be kept at 72 to 86 degree Fahrenheit and the pH level should be kept above pH 8.0.[16] A Chemical, Mechanical, and/or Biological filtration should be maintained along with a protein skimmer in order to keep the water clean. Even with all of the equipment, 20-25% water will need to be replaced weekly.


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