Alien of the Reef: The Giant Moray Eel

The giant moray (Gymnothorax javaniucs) is essentially the long green strand of spaghetti that swam its way from the depths of Hell.

A face not even a mother could love


Don’t let the serpentine appearance fool you, this is a fish through and through. The giant moray is a member of the moray eels and happens to be the largest (shocker) when it comes to overall body mass. The eel can reach over 3m (9.8 ft.) in length and up to 30 kilos (66 lbs.) in mass. Essentially, a large garden hose with teeth at one end of it. But, the moray is not born into the ocean with such an impressive stature.

Giant moray eels are found widespread in the indopacific region. They live in lagoons and the outer areas of coral reefs, usually in a hidey-hole of some sorts. Mating season takes place when the eels sense that the water temperature and the abundance of food reaches optimal levels. They seek out the opposite sex and wrap themselves around each other for a few hours. During this time the female can release up to 10,000 eggs that will be fertilized by the male. The eggs float off in the current until they hatch as eel larvae. During this stage they are vulnerable to just about anything, considering they are not much bigger than the plankton they eat. But after about a year, they reach a size where they can leave the currents and return to the reefs, and seek out a crevice for themselves. Once a moray survives its vulnerable years, it is a top predator and can live 10-30 years as the scariest creature on the reef.

The physiology of the eel is what makes it so interesting, and equally terrifying. Moray’s sport a unique feeding mechanism that sets it apart from all other animals. Its head is too narrow for it to be able to suction feed like other fish, so the eel evolved a terrifying tactic instead. Much like the monster in Alien, the moray possesses a second set of jaws inside its mouth.

So, uh, do you have one toothbrush or do you use one for each set?

The moray will bite down on its unfortunate prey, and the second set will clamp down as well. Then the pharyngeal jaws drag the prey farther down the gullet of the hungry eel. These pharyngeal jaws are immensely powerful, and the moray is able to hold onto just about anything once it bites down. Fortunately, attacks on human are very rare, and tend to happen when it’s burrow is disturbed. For some reason, people think it’s a goo idea to HAND FEED these animals, that have two biting apparatuses. This is where most incidents go south. The problem with the pharyngeal jaws is that the moray is unable to release the powerful grip from its prey. So if a human is unfortunate enough to get bitten, the moray and the person must be dragged to shore. The moray will be killed, have its head chopped off, and jaw broken before it will release its grip. That is some mad commitment to biting and a huge inconvenience for anyone on the receiving end.

As if a moray by itself wasn’t enough to inspire anxiety, they are part of a dynamic duo with another predatory reef fish. The roving coral grouper will seek out a moray to team up and take down prey. Rather than Alien Vs. Predator, it’s alien helps predator. The agreement to hunt together is initiated by head shaking, and the eel flushes prey out of crevices and the grouper snaps them up. This is the only known form of interspecies cooperative hunting.

Like any good monster, the giant moray needs a suitable lair where it can dwell undisturbed until it’s time to hunt again. The eel will usually seek out crevices in the coral and use it as a home base. Their scaleless skin secretes a protective mucus, that also doubles as a glue to form permanent walls in the burrow. They need to have a good amount of room inside of the burrow, not just for their massive body. Their gill holes need gaps in the burrow for water to circulate, or the eel could risk suffocating itself.

Why hello there

The moray sets itself apart from the other eels simply by being the coolest. With a body adaptation unique only to it, and the willingness to team up with a different species, the moray is in a whole different league of awesome. Just, for the love of God, keep your limbs away from the double set of jaws.

Muh Sources





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