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What is a Moray Eel?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The moray eel is a fish that belongs to the family Muraenidae. There are more than 100 species of moray eels, so a great diversity exists among them in size, skin and coloration. Their size ranges from about 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) to 13 feet (4 m) in length with skin that might be speckled, striped or look as though it is tattooed. These eels exist in a spectrum of vivid colors from white through black. All moray eels share the characteristics of lacking both scales and fins, other than one dorsal fin that runs along the length of its body and gives it a snakelike appearance.

Moray eels are found throughout the world. These types of eels are mainly reef fish that live in subtropical and tropical seas. Mostly, they prefer living in a marine environment in the shallow waters surrounding rocky areas or coral reefs where they like to hide in crevices and alcoves, but some of the species live at depths of several hundred feet or meters. Saltwater is their main habitat, but several moray eel species can be found in temperate seas as well as in brackish water and estuaries. A few species are able to live in freshwater.

These eels spend much of their time hiding and come out only at night, when they need to feed. The moray eel is a carnivore whose diet includes other eels, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and cephalopods. Although its hunting is hampered by bad eyesight, it has a very sharp sense of smell that leads it to its prey. Morays are vital to the ocean ecosystem because they help to keep it in balance by eating prey that is already dead. The moray eel is unique in the animal kingdom for having a set of jaws with teeth in its throat, and it uses them to drag its prey into its digestive system.

For moray eels, breeding season begins when the temperature of the water reaches its maximum. Morays breed either as a couple or as two males and one female, with eggs and sperm released at the same time and fertilized in the water. After hatching, the larvae float in the ocean for about eight months before swimming down to begin life in their chosen habitat. It takes about two years for a larva to become an adult moray eel. Depending on the species, moray eels live about six to 36 years.

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