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Moray Eel

moray eel, Muraenidea

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Moray eels are members of the family Muraenidae. There are 15 genera and over 200 individual species that fall under the collective name moray eel. They are most prevalent in the tropical regions of the world but populations also exist in subtropical regions. This scale less, snake-like predator will grow anywhere from just over a foot to 15 feet in length depending on the specific species. Slender giant morays are the longest. Giant morays are thicker bodied and only reach about 10 foot in length but can easily tip the scales at 80 lbs. Some species have been reported to live in excess of 30 years. They were often referred to as sea monster in ancient times because of their size and fearsome appearance.

Moray eels have exceedingly long dorsal fins. They start at the back of their heads and stretch the entire length of their bodies to join seamlessly with their caudal and anal fins. Most species lack pectoral and pelvis fins. This adds to the sleekness of their bodies and contributes to their snake like appearance. Moray eels are typically patterned. This patterning is even found in the inside of their mouths helping to camouflage it from their next hapless victim. Their eyes are rather small and beady just like the reptiles they so closely resemble.

Morays are fierce predators. They do not simply swallow their dinner whole like most fish. Their backward angled teeth are designed for one purpose, to tear flesh. They do not chew or hold their victims. They rip into them. Their teeth combined with not one but two sets of jaws make for a deadly combination. The Moray’s initial jaws are wide enabling it to take in larger prey. A secondary jaw called a pharyngeal jaw is located in their throat. The pharyngeal jaws also possess teeth.  Moray eels are the only creature on the planet to use pharyngeal jaws to subdue their prey and prevent it from further struggle.

Morays have poor eye sight and bad hearing. They are nocturnal hunters and have little use for good eyesight. Their highly developed sense of smell serves them well in an environment with little or no light. They spend the majority of their time hiding in cracks and crevices patiently awaiting the arrival of their dinner. When the time is right, they strike with the lightening fast precision of a snake.

Morays slither through the water rather than swim. The undulation of their bodies provides motion much in the way a snake moves across land. Between their enormous size, predacious appearance and the many characteristics they have in common with some of the most feared reptiles on dry land it is no wonder ancient mariners conjured up stories of gigantic man eating sea monsters.

It is common to mistake predatory instinct for aggressive behavior. Moray eels are not inherently evil. They are simply trying to survive like everything else in nature. Morays are more apt to hide from human intrusion than make a stand. They would rather flee than fight. Most bites inflicted during human interaction are accidental or in what the eel perceives as self defense. A giant moray can easily sever a human finger. Bite wounds frequently become infected. Whether in nature or in an aquarium one is advised to exercise caution when dealing with these creatures.

Most moray eels are simply too large to be kept in home aquariums. They are better suited for commercial aquaria. Depending on the size of your aquarium there are roughly a dozen species you may wish to consider. Among the smallest of these species are the trunk-eyed moray (Gymnothorax margaritophorus), Richardson’s moray (Gymnothorax richardsonii) and the chestnut moray (Enchelycore carychoa). These eels will reach from 12 to 14 inches when fully grown.

This is not a particularly aggressive animal but due to its predatory nature it is ill suited for marine reef aquariums. If kept in a community tank a moray should only be housed with fish aggressive enough to take a fellow predator in stride. Lionfish, angelfish, boxfish and groupers fit in this category. If you intend to raise a moray you should also be aware that they navigate cracks and crevices in the same manner a snake will. They can easily escape from anything less than a tightly lidded aquarium.

These are strictly carnivorous creatures. They may show a reluctance to eat when they are first introduced to their new surroundings.  Feeding them live food such as brine shrimp for smaller species and feeder shrimp and fish for larger eels will help them acclimate to their new surroundings. Eventually they can be weaned of live food.

General Environmental Parameters


pH Level Specific Gravity
72-78  °F 8.3-8.4 1.020-1.025

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