Family MURAENIDAE


Common name: Moray Eels

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Summary:

Elongate, slender to robust eels with a continuous dorsal, caudal and anal fin. Morays lack scales, pectoral and pelvic fins, and have a transparent, leaf-like leptocephalus larval stage, like all true eels. Fantastic video of a moray eel leptocephalus at Bali, Indonesia

Although morays are common inhabitants of coral and rocky reefs, divers usually only see their heads poking out from their hiding places in crevices and holes. They are nocturnal carnivores and feed mostly on other fishes, crustaceans and octopuses.


Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Moray eels, MURAENIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Aug 2017, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/Home/family/44

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Family Taxonomy

One of the largest families of true eels, with 15 genera in two subfamilies, and 197 recognised species (Smith 2012), most of which are found in the Indo-Pacific region. The Australian fauna was revised by Böhlke & McCosker (2001) who provided a key to the 59 species known from Australian and New Zealand waters at that time.

The family is represented in Australian waters by nine genera and more than 60 described species.

Family Distribution

Moray eels are known from all tropical and subtropical seas, with the greatest diversity in the tropical Indo-Pacific. They are common inhabitants of coral and rocky reefs.

Although most species are marine, inshore reef inhabitants, at least one Australian species enters freshwater.

Family Description

Moray eels, with their characteristic long slender body shape, lack of scales and paired fins, and heavy mucous coat are well-adapted for dwelling in holes and crevices. The gill opening is a small pore on the side of the head, and lateral line pores are restricted to the anterior part of the body. Some morays have sharp fang-like teeth, while others have blunt crushing teeth and feed mostly on crustaceans.

Family Size

Morays range in total length from 20 cm to almost 3.75 metres, although most are one-third this size or less.

Family Colour

Morays are highly variable in colour pattern, and range from plain greyish to brownish forms, to species with spots, bands, ocelli and mottled, marbled or reticulated patterns.

Family Feeding

Most moray eels are nocturnal carnivores and feed mostly on other fishes, crustaceans and octopuses. Those with long pointed teeth feed primarily on fishes and octopus, whereas those with crushing teeth prey mostly on crabs. Morays also have well-developed pharyngeal jaws.

Family Reproduction

In some species, the sexes are separate, while others begin life as males and become females. Fertilisation is external and the eggs and larvae are pelagic. Like all true eels, morays have a leptocephalus larval stage, although few muraenid leptocephali have been identified to the species (Smith 2012).

Family Commercial

While morays are food fish in many areas throughout their range, they are not considered a delicacy.

Family Remarks

Large long-lived moray eels have been implicated in causing ciguatera, a tropical fish poisoning, which may cause death in rare instances. Morays, especially large species with long, sharp teeth are often feared. While usually not aggressive, they may inflict a nasty bite when molested.

Author

Dianne J. Bray

References


Allen, G.R., J.E. McCosker, N.J. Cross, D.J. Bray & D.F. Hoese. 2006. Muraenidae (pp. 243-259). In: Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. Fishes. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing, 3 vols.

Böhlke, E.B. (1982) Vertebral formulae for type specimens of eels (Pisces: Anguilliformes). Proceedings of the Academy of  Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 134, 31–49.

Böhlke, E.B. (1995) Notes on the muraenid genera Strophidon, Lycodontis, Siderea, Thyrsoidea, and Pseudechidna, with a redescription of Muraena thyrsoidea Richardson, 1845. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 146, 459–466.

Böhlke, E.B. (1997a) Notes on the identity of elongate unpatterned Indo-Pacific morays, with description of a new species (Muraenidae, Subfamily Muraeninae).  Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 147, 89–109.

Böhlke, E.B. (2000) Notes on the identity of small, brown, unpatterned Indo-Pacific moray eels, with descriptions of three new species (Anguilliformes, Muraenidae). Pacific Science 54, 395–416

Böhlke, E.B. & J.E. McCosker. 2001. The moray eels of Australia and New Zealand, with the description of two new species (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae). Records of the Australian Museum 53(1): 71-102.

Böhlke, E.B., J.E. McCosker & J.E. Böhlke. 1989. Family Muraenidae (pp. 104-206). In: Böhlke, E.B. (ed.) Memoirs of the Sears Foundation of Marine Research Mem. 1 (pt 9).

Bohlke, E., McCosker, J.E. & Smith, D.G. (1999). Family Muraenidae. pp. 1643-1657 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome: FAO Vol. 3 pp. 1397-2068.

Bohlke, E.B. & Smith, D.G. (2002). Type catalogue of Indo-Pacific Muraenidae. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad. 152: 89-172.

McCosker, J.E. & Smith, D.G. (1997). Two new Indo-Pacific morays of the genus Uropterygius (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae).  Bull. Mar. Sci. 60(3): 1005-1014.

Mehta, R.S. 2009. Ecomorphology of the moray bite: Relationship between dietary extremes and morphological diversity. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 82: 90-103. 

Mehta, R.S. & P.C. Wainwright. 2007. Raptorial jaws in the throat help moray eels swallow large prey. Nature 449: 79-82. 

Mehta, R.S. & P.C. Wainwright. 2007. Biting releases constraints on moray eel feeding kinematics. The Journal of Experimental Biology 210: 495-504. 

Mehta, R.S. & P.C. Wainwright. 2008. Functional innovation in the pharyngeal jaw apparatus of moray eels. Journal of Morphology 269: 604-619. 

Munro, I.S.R. (1957). Handbook of Australian fishes. No. 6. Fish. Newsletter (Aust.) 15(12): 15-18, figs 171-198.

Reece, J.S., Mehta, R.S., 2013. Evolutionary history of elongation and maximum body length in moray eels (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. doi: 10.1111/bij.12098

Smith, D.G. 2012. A checklist of the moray eels of the world (Teleostei: Anguilliformes: Muraenidae). Zootaxa 3474: 1–64.

Smith, J.L.B. (1962). The moray eels of the western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Ichthyol. Bull. J.L.B. Smith Inst. 23: 421-444, figs 1-6. pls 53-62.

Weber, M. & Beaufort, L.F. de (1916). The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Ostariophysi: II. Cyprinoidea, Apodes, Synbranchi. Leiden: Brill Vol. 3, 455 pp. 214 figs.