Undulate Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus (Lacépède 1803)

Other Names: Gradient Moray, Leopard Moray, Mottled Moray, Mottled Reef-eel, Undulated Moray

An Undulate Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus, on Great Detached Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, October 2005. Source: Erik Schlogl / iNaturalist.org. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

A large distinctive moray with a greenish-yellow head, an undulating pattern of large close-set dark brown blotches on the body and fins forming irregular bars, and smaller dark spots in the paler spaces between the blotches.
The Undulate Moray is aggressive and may bite if threatened.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Gymnothorax undulatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/Home/species/3818

Undulate Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus (Lacépède 1803)

More Info


Houtman Abrolhos, Western Australia including offshore reefs, and Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, to Moreton Bay, Queensland, including reefs in the Coral Sea; also Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean and Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical Indo-Pacific. 
A common nocturnal inhabitant of reef-flats, lagoons and seawards reefs.


Feeds at night on fishes, octopus, and crustaceans.

Similar Species

Once thought to be widespread in East Africa, Sithole et al. (2020) determined that the South African population was a new species, Gymnothorax elaineheemstrai, differing from the Undulate Moray in having 134–136 total vertebrae and a mottled and faintly reticulated color pattern.


The specific name undulatus (wavy) refers to the pattern of  referring to distinctive pattern of light undulating lines and speckles on a dark green background

Species Citation

Muraenophis undulata Lacépède 1803, Hist. Nat. Poiss. 5: 629, 642, 644, Pl. 19 (fig. 2). Type locality not stated.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Undulate Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus (Lacépède 1803)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls.

Allen, G.R. 2000. Fishes of the Montebello Islands. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 59: 47-57

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Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 21 pp.

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls.

Böhlke, E.B. & McCosker, J.E. 2001. The moray eels of Australia and New Zealand, with the description of two new species (Anguilliformes: Muraenidae). Records of the Australian Museum 53: 71-102 figs 1-10 

Böhlke, E.B., 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.

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Hutchins, J.B. 1990. Fish survey of South Passage, Shark Bay, Western Australia. pp. 263-278 in Berry, P.F., Bradshaw, S.D. & Wilson, B.R. (eds). Research in Shark Bay: Report of the France-Australe Bicentenary Expedition Committee. Perth : Western Australian Museum. 

Hutchins, J.B. 1997. Checklist of fishes of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. pp. 239-253 in Wells, F. (ed.) The Marine Fauna and Flora of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum.

Hutchins, J.B. 2003. Checklist of marine fishes of the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. pp. 453-478 in Wells, F.E., Walker, D.I., & Jones, D.S. (eds). Proceedings of the Eleventh International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Dampier, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum. 
Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2):709-762.

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3)

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

Lacépède, B.G. 1803. Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. Paris : chez Plassan Vol. 5 803 pp. 21 pls. See ref at BHL

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Moore, G.I., Morrison, S.M., Hutchins, B.J., Allen, G.R. & Sampey, A. 2014. Kimberley marine biota. Historical data: fishes. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 84: 161-206

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs. 

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Richardson, J. 1848. Ichthyology. 75-139 pls 42-43 & 44 (parts), 45-52, 53 in Richardson, J. & Gray, J.E. (eds) The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror under the Command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross, R.N., F.R.S., during the years 1839–43. London : Smith, Elder & Co. Vol. 2 139 pp. (as Muraena cancellata)

Smith, D.G., Tighe, K. & McCosker, J. 2019. Gymnothorax undulatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T195803A2419811. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T195803A2419811.en. Downloaded on 24 April 2020.

Sithile, Y., Smith, D.G., Mwale, M. & Gouws, G. 2020. A taxonomic revision of Gymnothorax undulatus(Anguilliformes: Muraenidae) in the Western Indian Ocean, with description of a new species. Zootaxa 4767(1): 161–181 http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4767.1.7

Taylor, W.R. 1964. Fishes of Arnhem Land. Records of the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land 4: 44-307 figs 1-68

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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37060053

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern


Depth:9-110 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:150 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map