The Moray Family – Muraenidae
Argus Moray, Muraena argus, a representative member of the Morays and Moray Snake Eels or Muraenidae Family.
The Morays and Moray Snake Eels belong to the Muraenidae Family, which is comprised of a diverse group of eels known in Mexico’s fishing areas as morenas. They are found globally in both marine and brackish waters in all tropical and temperate seas. The family includes one hundred ninety-nine global species that have been placed in sixteen genera. There are thirty-seven family members residing in Mexican waters, sixteen in the Atlantic and twenty-one in the Pacific. Morays are notoriously difficult to identify; some important characteristics to observe include fin position, tail length, jaw and dentition, nostril profile, and color pattern, noting that color also varies with fish maturity.
Morays are medium to large fish ranging in length from 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) to 4 meters (13 feet) in length and weighing up to 30 kg (66 pounds). Most are brown to dark brown in color and many have distinctive patterns of spots, bars and/or reticulations. They have very elongated muscular compressed bodies. Their heads have snouts that vary from long to short and slender to heavy. They have small eyes, elevated napes, tubular front nostrils, rear nostrils that appear as a hole or tube over or before the eyes, large mouths with teeth that vary from sharp to needlelike fangs to flat molars that are found either in rows on the sides or on the roof of the mouth. They have a second set of jaws (pharyngeal jaws) that can be extended into the mouth to grasp prey. Their heads have three pores near the tip of the snout, four along the top jaw, and six on the lower jaw. Their gill openings are a hole or a slit in their mid-side. Their well-developed anal and dorsal fins originate before the gill openings and are continuous with the caudal fin. They have no pectoral fins and most have no pelvic fins. They do not have scales. They have smooth skin covered with a protective mucus.
Morays are benthic and reside from the shoreline to depths up to 1,500 feet where they hide in rock crevices and rarely emerge during daylight hours. They have limited eyesight and depend on their acute sense of smell to seek out prey. They open and close their mouths frequently, an action required for respiration. They are nighttime predators preying on small fish and a wide variety of invertebrates including crab, octopus, shrimp, and squid. In turn they are preyed upon by barracudas, groupers, and sea snakes. 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.
Morays are generally poorly studied and poorly characterized. They are shy and secretive fish that prefer to flee than confront human intruders. They are caught by spear, hook and line, longliners, traps, trawls, and dredge. When caught by hook and line they are notorious for coiling and creating massive “bird nests” out of the fishing line used to catch them. They are not targeted commercially but are obtained as a by-catch and sold in local fish markets. They are widely used for human consumption but some of the larger species contain Cigua Toxin. Some species are also used as aquarium fish. In Australia they are a major focus of dive trips and are known to “bite the hand that feeds them” and to attack if provoked or if their habitat is threatened. They date to the Tertiary Miocene Period, fifty million years ago.
Muraenidae Sp. Fish collected within the dunes off Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 66 cm (2 feet 2 inches). Collection and photo courtesy of Brad Murakami, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Identification courtesy of Gary Nafis, Californiaherps.com.
There are fourteen members of the Morays and Moray Snake Eels or Muraenidae Family currently presented in this website:
Argus Moray, Muraena argus
California Moray, Gymnothorax mordax
Finespotted Moray, Gymnothorax dovii
Hardtail Moray, Anarchias galapagensis
Jewel Moray, Muraena lengtignosa
Largehead Moray, Uropterygius macrocephalus
Palenose Moray Eel, Echidna nocturna
Panamic Green Moray, Gymnothorax castaneus
Spotted Moray, Gymnothorax moringa
Spottail Moray, Gymnothorax equatorialis
Starry Moray, Echinda nebulosa
Tiger Reef Eel, Scuticaria tigrina
Wide-mouth Moray, Gymnothorax eurygnathos
Zebra Moray, Gymnomuraena zebra