Starry Moray, Echidna nebulosa
The Starry Moray, Echidna nebulosa, whose common Spanish name is morena estrellada, is a member of the Moray and Snake Moray Eels or Muraenidae Family, known collectively as morenas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Snowflake Moray and the Clouded Moray. Globally, there are 11 species in the genus Echidna, of which three are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Starry Morays have thick bodies that taper gradually toward the tail. They are white with two rows of large black blotches and black spots between the blotches that become more linear with maturity. Their head is unmarked before the eyes, affording a “beak-like” appearance. Their eyes and nostrils are yellow. Their head is broad with a short snout, short jaws, and tubular nostrils. Their mouth is equipped with molar-like teeth on the roof, short stout conical teeth at the front, and one or two rows of close-set compressed nodular teeth on each jaw. Their anal fin originates immediately after the anus and their dorsal origin is before the gill openings. Their tail has a blunt tip; it is covered with skin and slightly greater than half the body length.
The Starry Morays are a benthic species found within rocks, corals, and crevices of intertidal reefs at depths up to 155 feet. They will also enter shallow lagoons. They reach a maximum length of 80 cm (32 inches). They are normally solitary individuals and can be seen in the open or within structures with only their head exposed. They are nocturnal ambush predators that feed on small fish and invertebrates. Reproduction is not well understood but is believed to occur via protogynous hermaphroditism, such that they start life as females and change to males at midlife. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Starry Morays have a limited distribution being found from La Paz southward along the southeast coast of Baja and from Mazatlán southward to Guatemala.
Due to its facial markings, the Starry Moray cannot be confused with any other species.
The Starry Morays are sold commercially and are a very popular saltwater aquarium species due to their smaller size, peaceful nature, and colorful markings. They are very hardy but require large aquariums and a high level of maintenance. They are also notorious escape artists and will prey on small fish and some invertebrates but not crustaceans. They are known to bite the hand that feeds them. They can live up to four years in captivity. They are widespread with a global distribution but have not been evaluated from a conservation perspective.
Starry Moray, Echidna nebulosa. Underwater photo taken in the greater La Paz area, Baja California Sur, 2013 – 2015. Photo provided by an individual in my readership with whom I have lost contact. Hopefully this person will contact me so I can properly acknowledge this fine contribution.
Starry Moray, Echidna nebulosa. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Kailua-Kona, HI, August 2015. Length: 51 cm (20 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.