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Species: the Moray Eel

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Species:  the Moray Eel

There are over 200 species of moray eel and they occupy rocky crevices in a wide range of environments. Most species of moral eels inhabit rocky of coral reef environments in tropical oceans. They can be found at depths of up to 150m. The smallest moral eel is the ribbon moray at a mere 25cm in length; the largest is the giant moray which can be up to 4m long. The skin of moray eels comes in many different colours and patterns and secretes protective mucus that helps them swim through the water. Moray eels have a dorsal fin that extends almost the entire length of their body and lack pelvic and pectoral fins giving them a snake like appearance. Their small gills mean that moray eels have to continually open and close their mouths to aid circulation when at rest. Divers have described the opening and closing of the mouth of a moray eel as being quite intimidating and it has added to the menacing and aggressive reputation that these creatures have.

Moray eels are carnivorous predators that ambush their prey from the small crevices in which they live. A moray eel will hide in its crevice with only a small part of its head sticking out while it waits for its prey. Moray eels have small eyes and poor eyesight but make up for it with a strong sense of smell that helps them detect their prey. Once the prey has been detected, the moray eel will launch its head and body of out the crevice and lunge for the prey. Moray eels have large teeth that they use to tear flesh and a second set of jaws in their throat to help them swallow their prey. They eat fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Moray eels will also eat dead prey items that float near the crevice and thereby have an important ecological role in removing decaying matter from the ecosystem. Moray eels are primarily nocturnal and will rarely be seen swimming outside their crevices during the day.
Moray eels have a reputation for being aggressive and attacking humans but this is usually a result of them acting in self-defence when their burrows are disturbed. This may occur when the rocks that moray eels live in are used as hand holes for people exploring the underwater environment. Divers attempting to feed moray fish have had fingers bitten off. This is due to the moray eels' poor sense of smell meaning that they have difficulty distinguishing between human fingers and food. This has led to the banning of hand-feeding of moray eels in the Great Barrier Reef and at other locations.

Moray eels have few natural predators and although some species are fished, this is uncommon due to them sometimes being toxic as a result of ingesting fish that possess toxins that are dangerous to humans. The moray eel species for which the IUCN have data are listed as being of "Least Concern". However, the coral and rocky coastal areas in which many moray eel species live are affected by pollution, overfishing and other human impacts.

Author: Anja Mizdrak