Sunday 11 September 2011

Moray Eel

Image: California Academy of Sciences
I absolutely adore Moray Eels.

They look so angry and spiteful and haggard. That's 3 of my favourite things right there! Beady eyes. Sharp teeth. Wibbly-wobbly throat. Oh come on, now you're just spoiling me!

Morays are real and proper eels. They are mostly found in coral reefs, but some live in subtropical areas and a few can survive brackish or even freshwater environments.

It's the coral reefs that are their true domain, though. Many are active contributors to the vibrant beauty of their tropical homes - Morays can come in all sorts of wondrous colours and patterns that bedeck their serpentine body and faintly psychotic face.

Image: Fishbase
They tend to hide all that under a bushel though. Moray Eels are predominantly nocturnal and spend their days hidden and secure in crevices and burrows. Often, all that can be seen is a sinister glare and a mouthful of daggers waiting for dusk.

The rest of the body can range between 11.5 centimetres (4.5 in) and a frightful 4 metres (13 ft) in length.

There are no scales, just thick skin covered in an occasionally toxic mucus. One fin runs along their back, around the tail and along the underside. Many Morays have no other fins at all.

Image: Fishbase
I wouldn't have thought they'd be too great in a race, especially if the other guy knows he'll get eaten if he loses. Morays are, of course, predators who feast on fish, cephalopods, molluscs and crustaceans. They will even scavenge on the dead, which is probably something more likely to occur on their night-time sojourns into the reef.

Morays are more often ambush hunters, at least in the day. Waiting in their lair, glowering at the outside world, they lunge at unfortunate bystanders as they bystand about and do their bystanding thing.

Morays tend not to see so much as smell. This is why hand-feeding a Moray is a bad idea if you've grown accustomed to your hand. Moray teeth are made to cut. Morays like food and they like their dark and foreboding home. Offering them finger food or interfering with their fortress may well provide you with an interesting story about where your finger went. Every cloud has a silver lining...

Image: Wikimedia
You might discover something quite remarkable as your finger-and-thumb count drops into single digits. It's to do with that big, chunky neck.

You see, Morays don't store a load of flab in there. They store another set of jaws. While the big, obvious ones are doing the whole cutting shenanigans, the ones in the neck lunge out and grab hold of prey. They then pull this morsel down into the throat to continue on its grand voyage to the "Other Side". By which I mean the anus. Yeh, sometimes I'm just too sentimental for my own good.

Image: shorefishes of the tropical eastern Pacific online information system
That must be why I've always loved the Moray Eel. This sinister, slightly freakish hermit who can't abide the lively kerkuffle that lies beyond the entrance to his cave. His time is the night. His people are the dead.

Image: Wikimedia
Lovely and colourful, though!


Crunchy said...

They have a beautiful aquarium at an office I frequent, which is home to all sorts of wonderful, territorial predators (honestly I'm amazed they haven't all eaten each other yet). They have a huge Snowflake Eel living in the rocks at the bottom of the tank, and despite its color it hides so well I didn't notice it at all until the fifth time I ventured by.

So anyway, the eel took a huge chunk out of the lionfish's tail. Guess they didn't feed it enough.

Joseph JG said...

Nice! I get utterly mesmerized by aquariums, always have since I was a tiny child. It's great that you saw one there, I once saw one for sale at a fish shop. That one wasn't hidden in the least, it was stretching and looking down on us all. Amazing stuff!

It's surprising what creatures an experienced fish-keeper can keep together. You saw what happens when it goes a little wrong. I'm sure you can imagine what happens when it goes a lot MORE wrong!

Crunchy said...

I'm thinking it's a matter of each predator seeing each other predator as "too big." The fish do seem to recognize the uh... big... fish?... and pay them some degree of respect. When that lionfish snaps at his food, everyone else BOLTS.

Maybe the lionfish got a little too close to that fortress.

Joseph JG said...

I'm sure you're right. There can often be some other stuff about giving everyone space and hiding places. Sometimes if you want to add a fish into a tank that already has a fish in it, you have to move all the rocks and stuff around first so that your previous fish feels like it's in a new territory and doesn't attack the new one as an intruder.

It can even be about putting so many fish in a tank that none of them are able to call any part of it their own territory. You have to work with the instincts of the fish and sometimes the answer can be a little odd.

Anonymous said...

The video clearly shows two jet engine exhaust nozzles on the Moray! Wow!

Joseph JG said...

Haha! They're full of surprises!