The moray eel is a large species of eel found in warm and temperate waters all around the world. Despite their snake-like appearance, moray eels are in fact fish and not reptiles.
Moray eels are found in both deep and shallow waters in tropical and sub-tropical regions at depths of less than 50m. At our dive sites here in Tenerife, you will commonly see three different types, the brown, the black and the fang tooth moray.
They vary in size, but grow averagely up to 100cm in length. The fang tooth moray can be distinguished from the other morays by its bright yellow and black markings. It’s elongated jaw and large number of sharp glass like teeth, give it a more aggressive appearance.
They don’t see very well but they make up for it with their very excellent sense of smell. They tend to do their hunting at night and rely on smell to help them get their prey. Some types of fish will follow them to be able to avoid predators themselves.
The moray eel is a relatively secretive animal, spending much of its time hiding in holes and crevices amongst the rocks on the ocean floor. By spending the majority of their time hiding, moray eels are able to remain out of sight from predators and are also able to ambush any unsuspecting prey that passes.
Like many other large fish, the moray eel is a carnivorous animal surviving on a diet that consists of only meat. Fish, including squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and crustaceans such as crabs are the main source of food for the moray eel.
The moray eel is often one of the most dominant predators within its environment but moray eels are hunted by some other animals including other large fish like grouper, barracuda and sharks. Moray’s normally grab their prey using an element of surprise, then they wrap their body around it until it becomes flat enough to swallow. Alternatively they take a bite at a time, tearing their prey apart. They have two sets of teeth, one located in the jaw and the other in the throat to facilitate digestion. They keep their mouths open constantly in order to assist with breathing and provide constant circulation of water towards the gills.
Moray eels tend to mate when the water is warmest towards the end of the summer. Moray eel’s fertilisation process occurs outside of the womb, in the surrounding water. More than 10,000 eggs can be released at a time, which develop into larvae and become part of the plankton. It can take up to year for the moray eel larvae to have grown big enough to swim down to the ocean floor to join the community below.
At many of our interesting sites in Tenerife, you will find cleaner shrimp providing a cleaning service to the moray eel. They remove parasites from their bodies, mouth and in between their teeth, providing a good source of nutrition to the shrimp.
I find Moray eels fascinating to watch, they may appear frightening to look at but they are not aggressive and would only react in self defense if we make them feel threatened…. or you wave your fingers near them and they mistake them as food!
By Carly Pickford