Did you know?

A misunderstood fish: the moray eel

Quick Facts

They look threatening almost evil, many think they are some kind of poisonous snake… Now is time to learn a lot about moray eels!

There are different types of underwater eels and among them are Moray eels. There are about 200 different species of moray eels in the world, most of them living in salt water, some in brackish and fresh water. They usually occupy shelters such as overhangs, crevices, coral rubble rocks and cavities with just their heads protruding, less frequently live coral reefs

Some species can reach a staggering length of 3m (10ft) and a weight of 30kg (66lb), however most of them don’t grow bigger than 1,5m (5ft) and weigh about 10kg (22lb) at adult size. Some species are really small and never reach these sizes and weights though!

Are moray eels dangerous?

They might look evil, most species are really not aggressive towards humans. They have to open their jaws because that’s the way they are breathing. It is not at all meant to be threatening! Moray eels are almost blind and rely on their sense of smell for detecting preys. This is why they mainly have an empty look and two long appendages on the nose, these are their nostrils.

Moray eels are not snakes. They may look like one but they are neither reptiles nor amphibians, they are real fish and can breathe underwater. They are not poisonous, the most common complication from a moray eel bite is infection. Moray eels don’t bite unless they feel threatened or fed. Easiest way not to get bitten is to just not touch the reef and not try to feed them!

Feeding behaviour

They primarly feed on smaller fish, crabs and octopuses. They don’t have many predators, groupers, barracudas, sea snakes and rarely sharks are their few known predators which means that many moray eel types are apex predators in their ecosystem.

Moray eels are serious predators and their jaw structure reflects this. Not only do moray eels have razor-sharp teeth which you can see, they also have double jaws and double sets of teeth at the back of the mouth which they can shoot forward to bite their victim and pull them into their throat!

Symbiotic behaviour

Cleaner shrimp – moray eels carry a large number of parasites on their skin so one of their best friends are cleaner shrimp. Moray eels will search out a “cleaning station” or place where cleaner shrimp accumulate and wait for the shrimp to “clean” them. This is a mutualistic relationship – the moray eels get rid of their parasites and the cleaner shrimp get an easy meal.

Some coral groupers have been observed recruiting giant moray to help them hunt. The invitation to hunt is initiated by head-shaking. With the moray wriggling through the reef and the grouper hovering overhead, their respective prey has nowhere to hide.


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