Moray Eel

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Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris)

The question 'What color is a green moray eel?' would seem to have a straightforward answer, but it is more complicated than it would seem. Like all eels, green morays are completely covered in a thick slime. Their bodies are a bluish brown and the slime is yellow, combining to create the well-known green color of their name. Eels were respected and possibly even worshipped in ancient Egypt, while they were considered delicacies in ancient Greece. England and Japan are currently the most likely places to find them on a menu. Despite the connection of early Americans with turkeys, it was actually the eels that Native Americans first taught the newcomers how to hunt.


Content List

1. Scientific & Common Names

2. Characteristics

a. Breeding

b. Behavior

3. History

4. Present Status

5. References


Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Superclass - Gnathostomata

Class - Actinopterygii

Superorder - Elopomorpha

Order - Anguilliformes

Family – Muraenidae

Genera - 16 total. Gymnothorax is the most representative, with 125 species.

Common Names - Moray Eel, Eel


Characteristics

Throughout history, eels have been lumped together with snakes, but they are not reptiles at all, instead they are true fish. Some similar appearing freshwater species have been mistaken for eels, most famously the freshwater electric eel, but true eels live at least part of their lives in salt or brackish water and they all have teeth, as well as a dorsal fin that runs to the caudal fin. Morays can be dull earth tones or spotted and striped with garish blues, oranges, yellows, and greens. Their size can also vary wildly, depending on species and can be as small as a few feet or over a dozen feet. Eels have no pelvic fins and, while some eels can have pectoral fins, morays do not. Morays also have a pharyngeal jaw located in their upper throat that helps to subdue live prey.


Breeding

Moray eels breed using spawning, where the eggs are fertilized outside of the female's body. Ten thousand eggs can be fertilized at one time and the eggs are then left to develop into larvae. The larvae joins the varying developing flora and fauna known as plankton and can take up to a year before they establish the ability to swim on their own. While adult morays do not tend to stray very far from their favorite areas, their young travel great distances as larvae. The result is that the worldwide population of morays tends to have a very similar genetic structure that does not vary wildly, which is unexpected in such a sedentary species.


Behavior

Moray eels tend to be secretive and shy towards people. Most attacks on humans are minor and they are caused by the eel becoming defensive. It is now illegal in many areas to hand feed morays due to the likelihood of a bite. Moray eels are primarily carnivores and they hunt from the tight crevasses they prefer using primarily their keen sense of smell instead of their relatively weak eyesight. Some morays consume fish that have themselves consumed toxic algae, the toxins will then transfer to the eel and cause them to become poisonous if eaten. There is anecdotal evidence that morays may occasionally hunt cooperatively with a certain species of grouper found in the Pacific. Morays constantly open and close their mouths, giving the appearance that they are gasping in distress, but this is their normal breathing behavior as they force water through their gills to breath.


History

Eels are a newer species, with the earliest known fossils found from the Miocene epoch, between 5-23 million years ago. Today, there are over 800 species of eels, 200 of which are morays.


Present status

Moray eels are not currently considered threatened, but their tendency toward living in shallower areas and on reefs could put them at risk in the future.


References


Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish by James Prosek

Eel (Reaktion Books - Animal) by Richard Schweid

Reef Fish Identification (Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas) by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach