The moray eel is any eel of the family Muraenidae, despite what they might try to tell you. They have a wide range of colors and patterns; moreover, they almost never savagely bite humans. In fact, the moray eel is only aggressive when it feels threatened. How do you know that it feels threatened? You will know because it will be savagely tearing your flesh and leaving festering wounds. At this point, you should move away from the eel to avoid exciting it…
There are around eighty species of moray eel. That is nearly six dozen if you are a baker or four score if you are Abraham Lincoln. Moray eels stalk most tropical and subtropical seas. They are so widely spread that they are described as “cosmopolitan”. Cosmopolitan: A magazine, a drink and NOW…an eel. Most Muraenidae prefer a good coral reef to hide in; although, in a pinch, they will reside in a shipwreck or the dead husk of Godzilla’s mortal enemy, Mothra. Any underwater structure that contains crevices is acceptable to the moray eel.
Did You Know… When you feel jaws of steel clamping onto your heel… …that’s a moray!
Moray eels range from three feet in length to twelve feet in height if they are standing up. They have beady little eyes and a mouth that hangs slightly ajar. This gives them an dull but ferocious experience like a twenties gangster or Sylvestor Stallone. The moray has more teeth than a convention of hillbillies. Muraenidae have no pectoral fins, so if those are important to you, I suggest you find a different eel. They DO have dorsal and anal fins. The moray eel has no scales: It is smooth and slimy, due to the fact that it secretes mucous all over its body. This makes holding onto an eel difficult…which is just fine with me. The moray’s gills are rounded to avoid snagging them on pull-over sweaters.
In terms of behavior, the moray eel is really no different than any other vicious underwater creature. They tend to hide in a cranny somewhere, looking very much like the scenery around them; then, when some unlucky fish swims by, whistling a jaunty tune—BAM! Suddenly, the hapless fish is experiencing the iron-like death-grip of the shy and retiring moray eel. The moray eel only attacks hapless fish. The ones with hap are generally shunned by the predator for some reason…
Did You Know… Eel fossils from the Middle Cretaceous period indicate that there was at least one eel during the Middle Cretaceous period
Some species of Muraenidae have their quirks. For example, the yellow margin moray eel will not attack the Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse. This is probably due to the fact that the wrasse eats parasites, fungus and worms from the skin of the moray. It seems like an odious task just to keep the friendship of an elongated carnivorous fish. I suppose if the wrasse had more dignity, it’d probably have a shorter life span.
According to an article by Bshary, Hohner, Ait-el-Djoudi and Fricke (a pop group from the early seventies), the giant moray eel (Gymnothorax javanicus) actually hunts in cooperation with the leopard grouper (also known as the roving coral grouper, violet coral trout or Don Corleone). The grouper catches fish in the open water; whereas the giant moray eel prefers to slither through the coral. If a grouper loses prey to a crevice in the coral, it might get the attention of a moray eel and take it to the point where the prey was last seen. Sometimes the eel gets the unlucky prey; other times, the grouper gets the fish as it runs from the moray. It’s a win/win/lose situation. Everyone is either happy or eaten…
Did You Know… If every moray eel in the world were to disappear all at once, someone would have a lot of explaining to do
Moray eels are gonochoristic, meaning that they have males and females. This is a nice change from some of the FREAKS that I’ve written about so far. The females lay eggs and one or more males fertilize them; then, the eggs float around until nobody knows WHERE the heck they are. If the eel has traveled quite a distance to lay the eggs, as many morays do, this coupled with the drifting equals “cosmopolitan”, baby! The eel eggs are gelatinous, similar to or possibly the same as, the lumps in tapioca pudding.
The moray eel egg hatches into a leaf-shaped larva. These larvae float with the current and occasionally hit mailboxes with baseball bats. When the larva turns into a clear tiny cylinder, it is called a “glass eel”. The glass eel is so transparent that you could probably read through it; although, I can’t imagine you enjoying it much once the novelty wears off. Glass eels turn opaque and grow a bit to become entities called “elvers”, because “eelette” was not confusing enough for paleontologists. An elver eventually develops into an adult moray eel which will, in turn, reproduce and bite the thumbs off of scuba divers.
Did You Know… There are many entrees you can make with moray eel meat; just remember not to eat any of them after you make them
The moray eel might be tasty; but, eating one will often result in Ciguatera. Ciguatera is an illness brought on by eating of a fish that hath eaten of other fish, that hath eaten of other fish, that hath eaten of Gambierdiscus toxicus (that lay in the house that Jack built). Being at the top of the food chain, as the moray is, the toxins from the poisonous alga concentrate in its flesh. Cooking does not help destroy the toxin; but, it does make the poisonous fish more palatable. Remember that ciguatera is no worse than a case of spinal meningitis, except that it can last for over a decade and recur for no reason.
The moral? Avoid the moray eel. In the reefs, it can tear into you like a mastiff tears into a dropped pork chop; on your plate, it can hurt you even more. The moray eel is feared and hated for one main reason:
We just cannot abide a creature that wants to be left alone…