Jewel Moray

Jewel Moray, Muraena lentiginosa

The Jewel Moray, Muraena lentiginosa, whose common Spanish name is morena pinta, is a member of the Moray and Snake Moray Eel or Muraenidae Family, known collectively as morenas in Mexico. Globally, there are nine members in the genus Muraena, four of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.

The Jewel Morays have elongated muscular compressed bodies that taper significantly posteriorly; their head has a depth of 13 to 15% of body length and their depth at mid-body is 8%. They are found in various shades of brown. Adult are covered with numerous small white circular spots; these spots are yellowish in juveniles. They have a small black spot covering their gill openings and a black spot at the corner of their mouth preceded by a white area on their lower jaw. Their head has a moderately-sized conical snout and a large mouth equipped with a single row of very sharp slender conical teeth on each jaw. Their dorsal fin is thick and fleshy and originates before the gill openings. Their tail is slightly longer than body length. They have no pectoral or pelvic fins, gill covers or scales.

The Jewel Morays are found intertidally around rocky reefs at depths up to 90 feet. They reach a maximum length of 61 cm (24 inches). They hide under the cover of rocky crevices during daylight hours. They are voracious nocturnal ambush predators at night, consuming small fish and invertebrates including crab, octopus, and shrimp. They open and close their mouth frequently, an action required for respiration. Reproduction is viviparous with eggs and sperm broadcast into the water generating pelagic eggs and larvae that drift in oceanic currents before settling out on the bottom.

In Mexican waters the Jewel Morays are found in all waters of the Pacific, with the exception that they are absent from the extreme northern portion of the Sea of Cortez and from Magdalena Bay forward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Jewel Moray can be confused with the Argus Moray, Muraena argus and the Hourglass Moray, Muraena clepsydra, but both have prominent black spots around their gill covers.

The Jewel Morays are of limited interest to most and normally a “catch and release”. They are not harmful to humans. They are one of the smaller Morays and can be found in aquariums that are at least 50 gallons in size with water temperatures between 22oC and 26oC (72oF and 78oF) and have an abundance of structures for hiding. They are known to be superb escape artists, thus aquariums must be tightly sealed. They are reported to be easy to care for but are aggressive and will consume all the fish, crustaceans or other eels they can swallow. They can be fed by hand but are known to “bite the hand that feeds them”. They can be purchased on the internet with prices ranging from $30 to $350 per fish depending on their size.

Jewel Moray, Muraena lentignosa, Juvenile. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Buena Vista, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 22 cm (8.7 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.

Jewel Moray (1)

Jewel Moray, Muraena lentignosa, Juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, March 2006. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Tail: 54%. Identification courtesy of Dr. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.