Moray eels are ambiguous fish. They attract interest due to their body shape and unusual lifestyle, but at the same time, many consider their appearance to be intimidating. Moray eels are bred at home, settling them in aquariums. Moray eels have unique lifestyle and personality traits that are worth learning about.
Origin of the species and description
Moray eels belong to the family of ray-finned fish, the eel-like order. The closest relatives of moray eels are eels that live in salt waters. Outwardly, these fish are similar to snakes, but have a larger head. There is a version that moray eels did not originate from common ancestors with fish, but from tetrapods – four-legged amphibians. Their legs originated from fins, and due to the mixed way of life (terrestrial and aquatic), the hind legs were reduced first to ventral fins, then disappeared altogether.
Video: Moray eels
This body shape may be evolutionarily due to shallow waters with many reefs, rocks and stones with gorges. The body of moray eels is ideally suited for penetration into small shelters and at the same time does not allow these fish to develop high speed, which is not necessary in shallow waters. Tetrapods differed in similar characteristics. They lived near shallow water bodies. The abundance of food in the water made them go out onto land less and less, because of which, as a result, they could evolve into moray eels. Although the origin of moray eels is not confirmed and is a controversial point.
All moray eels and eels have a number of features that are present in all individuals:
- the body is long, not tapering towards the end;
- have a flattened shape;
- large head with a pronounced jaw;
- at least one row of teeth;
- no pelvic fins;
- move by twisting their bodies like snakes.
Interesting fact: If the theory about the origin of moray eels from tetrapods is correct, then one of the closest relatives of these fish are crocodiles and alligators. This is quite likely, given the similar structure of the jaw.
Appearance and features
Moray eels come in different sizes and colors, which are determined by the habitat of a particular individual. The number of subspecies of moray eels is not known for certain due to the almost identical morphology of these fish, so scientists distinguish from 85 to 206 subspecies. Moray eels have a length of 10 cm, up to one and a half meters. There are larger individuals – a subspecies of giant moray eels can reach a length of four meters and weigh more than 30 kg. Young moray eels are often brightly colored with yellow, red or green colors, with numerous black spots.
Fun fact: There is an even larger moray eel than the giant — Strophidon satete. This deep-sea fish is slightly different from the rest of the moray eels in terms of body structure (it is similar to a snake, not flattened), but it lives at a depth. Its length sometimes exceeds 5 m.
In adults, the color is different, but always camouflage. Most often it is a black body with many small yellow spots. But most often the color is neutral – black or gray, with pale white or dark spots. The abdomen of moray eels, like that of other fish, is lighter than the body and has no pattern.
Interesting fact: Leopard moray eels have their name precisely because of the color: black and yellow symmetrical mesh throughout body area.
The body is flattened from the sides, stretched into a kind of ribbon. Moray eels are completely covered with mucus, which allows them to climb into even narrower crevices without injuring the body on sharp stones. Sometimes this mucus is poisonous, which protects the fish from predators and parasites. In most species, the dorsal fin is stretched all over the body from head to tail. Moray eels cannot develop high speed, but the fin allows them to be more maneuverable and agile. Moray eels have a wide jaw and many sharp, shark-like teeth.
Where does the moray eel live?
Moray eels lead a secretive lifestyle, they settle in reefs, rocks, sunken large objects. They choose narrow crevasses in which they make temporary shelters and wait for prey. Moray eels are common in all warm waters, various species can be found in certain seas. For example, in the Red Sea: snowflake moray, geometric moray, elegant moray, star moray, zebra moray, white-spotted moray. Different types of moray eels can be found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Interesting fact: The giant moray eels have a pair of teeth located in the throat. They can move forward to grab prey and drag it straight down the esophagus.
Moray eels are thermophilic and settle in the bottom zones, but sometimes they can be found in shallow waters. Moray eels are also bred as aquarium fish, but they are extremely difficult to keep. An aquarium for three small moray eels should be at least 800 liters, while you need to be prepared that moray eels can grow up to one meter in length. The decoration of the aquarium is obligatory – a lot of high-level shelters in which moray eels can hide. The fauna of such an aquarium is also important. Moray eels depend on the ecosystem, which must have starfish and some cleaner fish. It is better to choose natural materials for resettlement, avoiding plastic and metals.
Now you know where this strange fish is found. Let’s see if the moray eel is dangerous for humans.
What does the moray eel eat?
Moray eels are convinced predators. For the most part, they are ready to eat everything that is close to them, so moray eels can attack a person.
Their diet mainly includes:
- various fish;
- octopus, cuttlefish, squid;
- all crustaceans;
- sea urchins, small starfish.
The method of hunting moray eels is unusual. They sit in ambush and patiently wait for prey to swim up to them. To make this happen as quickly as possible, moray eels have nasal tubes – they move out of the nostrils and move randomly, imitating the appearance of worms. The prey swims right up to the nose of the moray eel, not noticing the camouflaged predator.
Interesting fact: There are fish that moray eels are friendly to – these are cleaners and orderly shrimp that clean moray eels from possible parasites and remove food from her mouth.
The moray eel makes a sharp throw when the prey is literally under her nose. Different types of moray eels use external or internal jaws for throwing. The inner jaw is located in the pharynx, also has teeth and extends when thrown. With the help of the inner jaw, the fish drags prey into the esophagus. Moray eels do not know how to chew and bite – they swallow the victim whole. Thanks to their slippery body without scales, they can make a long and quick throw that does not injure them in any way.
Interesting fact: A rather unpleasant sight, how moray eels hunt octopuses. They drive the octopus into a corner and gradually eat it, tearing off piece by piece.
In aquariums, moray eels are fed special forage fish. It is best that the fish be alive and kept in a nearby aquarium. But moray eels can also be accustomed to frozen foods: cephalopods, shrimp and other food.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Moray eels live alone, although it may seem that they huddle in flocks. During the daytime, they hide in their gorges and among coral reefs, occasionally feeding. At night, moray eels lead a more active lifestyle, swimming out to hunt. Moray is a formidable predator. Swimming at night among coral reefs, she eats everything that she can reach. Moray eels rarely chase prey due to their slowness, but sometimes they chase their favorite delicacy – octopuses.
Most species of moray eels do not dive to a depth of more than 50 meters, although there are deep-sea subspecies. Some moray eels are capable of a kind of cooperation with other fish. For example, a giant moray eel willingly cooperates with sea bass. The perch finds hidden mollusks and crayfish, the moray eel eats part of the prey, and gives part to the perch already in a dead form.
The older the moray eel, the less secretive it becomes. Old moray eels can swim out to hunt even in the daytime. They also become more aggressive with age. Old moray eels are prone to cannibalism – they can eat young small individuals. There are frequent cases of moray eels attacking people. These fish show aggression if people are nearby, but do not attack them purposefully. By the type of attack, they are similar to bulldogs: moray eels cling to the body and do not open their jaws until they tear off a piece. But after an instant absorption of a piece, the moray eel does not swim away, but clings again.
As a rule, moray eels do not show aggression towards each other and are not territorial animals. They get along quietly in neighboring shelters without feeling any competition.
Social Structure and Reproduction
The breeding season of moray eels occurs during the winter period of time – approximately December or February, depending on the water temperature. Female moray eels swim in shallow water, leaving their shelters. There they spawn, which they immediately leave, sailing away to feed further. After the females, the males come to the place of laying. They fertilize eggs, but at the same time they do it chaotically and randomly, so one clutch can be fertilized by several males. Moray eel larvae are called leptocephals.
Moray eel larvae, hatched from eggs after about two weeks, are carried by the current along with plankton. Small moray eels have a size of no more than 10 mm., Therefore, they are very vulnerable – no more than one moray eel out of a hundred survives to an adult. Moray eels reach sexual maturity only at the age of six years. Due to climatic changes, individuals that are ready to breed refuse to lay eggs, because they do not feel the onset of the winter period. This leads to a reduction in the number of moray eels. In total, moray eels in the wild live for about 36 years, at home, life expectancy can increase to 50.
Reproduction of moray eels at home is complicated. Private breeders are not able to provide conditions suitable for moray eels to create masonry. Often moray eels eat their own eggs or refuse to lay them at all. Breeding of domestic moray eels is carried out by specialists who put fish in aquariums for clutches.
Natural enemies of moray eels
Moray eels tend to be at the top of the food chain, so they have no natural enemies. Depending on the species and size, various predators can attack them, but this can turn against them. Giant moray eels can themselves attack reef sharks when they try to attack moray eels. The moray eel is not able to swallow a reef shark, so at best it will bite off a piece of it, after which the fish will die from bleeding.
An interesting fact: Flocks of moray eels were used as a punishment for criminals in ancient Rome – a person was lowered into a pool of hungry moray eels to be torn to pieces.
A case was recorded of how a giant moray eel attacked a tiger shark, after which the shark had to flee. Giant moray eels are often attacked by scuba divers, and this species is aggressive, so it does not even need provocation. Moray eels often hunt octopuses, but sometimes they do not calculate their strength. Unlike moray eels, octopuses are one of the most intelligent aquatic inhabitants. Larger octopuses are able to defend themselves against moray eels and attack them until they are seriously injured or even killed. The octopus and the moray eel are considered the worst predators.
Population and species status
Moray eels have never been on the verge of extinction. They have no nutritional value for marine predators and are dangerous aquatic life. There is no targeted fishing for moray eels, however, sometimes individuals are caught by people for food. Moray eel meat is considered a delicacy. By analogy with puffer fish, it must be cooked properly, since some moray eels or moray eels of a certain subspecies may be poisonous. Moray eel venom can cause stomach cramps, internal bleeding and nerve damage.
A popular dish is moray eel ceviche. Moray eel is marinated in lime or lemon juice, then chopped into pieces and served raw with other seafood. Such a dish is very dangerous, since raw moray eel meat can cause unforeseen consequences. Although it is noted that moray eel meat is very tender, reminiscent of eel in taste. Moray eels are kept at home. Their behavior in aquariums can be different, especially if moray eels are settled there artificially, and not bred from breeders. Sometimes they can be seen in the aquariums of shopping centers, but moray eels do not live there for more than ten years due to constant stress.
Moray eels repel some people with their appearance, but fascinate others with graceful movements and their lethality. Even a small moray eel can be at the top of the food chain without being afraid of large predators and sharks. Moray eels have many species, various in colors and sizes, some of which can be easily kept at home.