Common name: Moray Eels



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:
Bray, D.J. 2019, Moray eels, MURAENIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 Jul 2024,

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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.


Bray, D.J. 2019


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