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Facts about Moray Eels

Praseeda Shirodkar
Moray eels are among the few types of fish that are able to swim backwards. This post gives you some interesting facts about them.

Quick Fact

Moray eels may consume certain toxic algae or a fish that has consumed those algae. The consumption of such eels may cause ciguatera food poisoning in humans. It can lead to serious gastrointestinal and neurological problems, and even death.
Moray eels (Muraenidae) is a family of eels that has around 200 species distributed across 15 genera. Most of them are marine, many are found in brackish waters, while some are freshwater species. These species grow and can be found in many parts of the world, mostly in warm and temperate waters. They have long and slender bodies, due to which they resemble snakes. However, in reality, they are fish (without scales). They are not reptiles.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Anguilliformes
Family: Muraenidae

Interesting Facts


▶ Moray eels are characterized by elongated bodies that flatten towards the tail and their very long snouts. They possess a long dorsal fin that is located behind the head, however, they do not have pelvic and pectoral fins.
▶ In spite of their large eyes, they are not able to see very well. However, their sense of smell is extremely good, enabling them to find prey.
▶ Moray eels, unlike other eels, have two sets of sharp teeth; one in the jaw, and the other in the throat. Their teeth are quite sharp. The teeth present in the throat aid in the breaking up and digesting of food.
▶ They are known to breathe through their gills similar to other fish. Their gills are placed in the form of two circular openings behind the head. They often keep their mouth open, surprisingly not to bite, but to provide constant circulation of water towards the gills.
▶ They exist in a range of colors, depending on the species and their location, which include brown, black, gray, white, yellow, blue, green or olive green, and orange. Furthermore, markings such as spots and stripes may also be visible in some species.

▶ Moray eels have a lifespan of 10 to 30 years.
▶ They are said to be fast swimmers and their motion is similar to that of snakes rather than a fish.

▶ Their bodies have a mucus covering that protects them from scratches that may have occurred due to their rapid sliding movements around reefs.
▶ They are nocturnal and usually make their appearance at night unless provoked. They hide in crevices or holes within the rocks and corals on the ocean floor. In this way, they remain protected from their predators.


▶ The size of a moray eel depends on the species. However, it can range in length up to 13 feet.

▶ Snyder's moray (Anarchias leucurus) is said to be the smallest species length-wise, while the slender giant moray (Strophidon sathete) is the longest.

▶ The giant moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) is the heaviest species and weighs 66 lb.

Eating Habits

▶ Moray eels are carnivores and mainly feed on fish, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, carrion, crabs, and other crustaceans.

▶ They hunt or attack their prey in an ambush manner, blending easily into the surroundings, and leaping on or getting hold of their prey as and when it comes along.


▶ They live in the shallow and deep waters of the tropical and sub-tropical regions, among rocks and coral reefs.

▶ They can be found as deep as several hundred meters. Moreover, they may inhabit freshwater as well as saltwater bodies.


▶ In spite of being powerful predators within the area they reside, they can be attacked by sharks, barracuda, and other large fish.

▶ They are also hunted by humans.


▶ Moray eels, like other eels, are oviparous (eggs and sperm are fertilized outside the womb).

▶ The females place their eggs in a well-hidden place and then emit an odor. This odor invites the males to place their sperms.
▶ A period of about 30 to 45 days is usually required for their offspring to come out of the eggs.

▶ Warm water conditions are best-suited for mating, thus, they may emerge sooner in such conditions. As soon as they emerge, they can take care of themselves. However, a majority of them may even get preyed on by other aquatic life forms.
Though these eels can be aggressive and appear dangerous, they tend to be shy and attack only if provoked, to protect their habitat, or for self-defense.