Several species of moray eel can be kept in aquariums but it is important to research the particular species you are interested since their requirements and maximal size varies. Moray eels are often portrayed as vicious and overly aggressive, but moray eels are actually fairly shy fishes that prefer to keep to them selves and stay inside their cave. If you attack a moray eel while scuba diving and try to force it out of its cave it can however deliver a serious bite in self-defence, especially if it feels cornered and unable to escape.
When feeding your moray eel it is important to keep in mind that moray eels rely primarily on their sense of smell and cannot see or hear well. If your finger tips smell like fish food, the moray eel might unintentionally bite you since it cannot distinguish the food from the aquarist.
Some people think the moray eel can deliver a poisonous bite since it has the same body shape as a snake, but this is not true. A moray eel bite can however become really infected since the teeth of the fish are covered in bacteria which are pressed deep into the wound. A skin toxin has also been found in an Indo-Pacific moray eel.
Moray eels are commercially fished, but eating them can sometimes lead to ciguatera fish poisoning.
Few animals attack adult moray eels, but some do, such as large barracudas and groupers. Moray eels can also prey on each other.
There are approximately 200 known species of moray eel in the world, all belong to the family Muraenidae which is divided into 15 different genera:
Habitat, habits and geographical range
Moray eels are found worldwide in both tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. The larvae of the fish are widespread in the epipelagic zone (the oceanic zone that extends from the surface to about 200 meters / 650 feet). Adult fish is typically found in shallow waters where there is plenty of rocks and coral head to hide among.
Many species of moray eel are nocturnal and will spend the day resting in a cave or crevice. When hunting, they also like to stay inside a cave or similar and wait until suitable prey ventures close enough. When keeping moray eels in aquariums, it is important to provide them with suitable caves and crevices where they can hide.
Morey eel feeding
The moray will typically hunt during the night, but it can also decide to lunge out and clamp an animal that ventures too close during the day. Moray eels feed chiefly on fishes, molluscs, crustaceans and cephalopods.
All moray eels are predators and equipped with numerous teeth. Most predatory fish species use negative pressure to swallow prey, but the moray eel cannot create negative pressure since its head is too narrow. Instead, the moray eel is equipped with a second set of teethed jaws inside its throat, so called pharyngeal jaws. When feeding, the moray eel will launch these jaws into its mouth where the teeth will grasp the struggling prey that is being held by the outer jaws. The pharyngeal jaws will transport the flesh down the throat and into the belly. The moray eel is actually the only known animal that uses its pharyngeal jaws to actively capture and restrain prey.
The largest species of moray eel is the Slender giant moray (Strophidon sathete) which can become up to 4 meters (13 feet) long. The typical length of a moray eel is however 150 cm (5 feet).
Just like other eels, the moray eels have a snake-like elongated body. The dorsal fin begins near the gill opening and extends along the back where it joins the caudal and anal fins. In most species, there are no pectoral and pelvic fins. The moray eel is a scaleless fish and the body is often decorated with a camouflaging pattern. The camouflage is actually present not only on the outside of the fish but inside the mouth as well.
The head of the moray eel has 1-3 lateral line pores and a protruding snout with wide jaws. The gill openings are small and round. The eyes are fairly small and the fish has poor eyesight since it relies on smell rather than sight and hearing to locate prey.
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