Tiger Reef Eel, Scuticaria tigrina
The Tiger Reef Eel, Scuticaria tigrina, whose common Spanish name is morena atigrada, is a member of the Moray and Snake Moray Eel or Muraenidae Family, known collectively as morenas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Leopard Moray. Globally, there are only two members in the genus Scuticaria and this species is the only one found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Tiger Reef Eels have elongated bodies with a depth that is 27% to 32% of total length. They are yellowish-brown and covered with large and small well-separated, irregular, and round black spots with yellow edges. Their lower jaw is covered with black specks. Their head has a short rounded snout with gill openings slightly above mid-body. They have a large mouth equipped with slender sharp teeth set in two rows on both jaws. Their anal and dorsal fins are small and only visible near the caudal fin. Their tail is short and approximately one-third of their total length.
The Tiger Reef Eels are a benthic species found in lagoons and oceanic reefs on sand and between rocks at depths up to 80 feet. They reach a maximum length of 1.4 meters (4 feet 7 inches). They are very secretive and have poor eyesight and a keen sense of smell. They take shelter during daylight hours and are active nighttime predators consuming crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins. Reproduction has been poorly studied but is believed to occur via protogynous hermaphroditism, whereby females transition to males at midlife. Eggs are pelagic. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavior patterns.
The Tiger Reef Eels have a wide distribution being found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In Mexican waters, they are found only from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas along the extreme southeast coast of Baja.
The Tiger Reef Eel is most likely confused with the Pacific Snake Eel, Ophichthus triserialis (large eyes; tail measuring 53% to 58% of total length).
The Tiger Reef Eels are seldom seen by humans and enjoy modest popularity as aquarium fish being docile and elegant. They require large tanks with crevices for hiding and moderate care. They are known as escape artists. Although visually intimidating, they are actually very timid, will seldom bite humans, and are considered harmless to humans. From a conservation perspective, they have a wide global distribution but have not been evaluated. They are considered at risk due to coral reef degradation and coastal habitat destruction caused by human development.
Tiger Reef Eel, Scuticaria tigrina. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Kailua-Kona, HI, April 2013. Length: 86 cm (34 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.