There are over 400 species of Eels in the world, occupying both saltwater and fresh water habitats. Although eels look like snakes, they are fish and come from the order Anguilliformes. All eels have elongated, narrow bodies with long dorsal and anal fins. Most species of eels act as ambush predators, hiding in rocky crevices or reefs, or burrowing under mud or sand. Some eels prefer a more active, hunting life, using their length to reach into holes and crannies after prey.
Eels start life as transparent larva and remain in that state for 6 – 12 months. During this time they can float thousands of miles through the open seas. After the larval phase, they become elvers and although not sexually mature, they look more like an adult eel. Elvers, like lobster, were once considered a cheap food and were a staple of coastal fishermen. Elvers are now considered a delicacy and command a hefty price.
The Moray Eel is perhaps the most well-known eel with over 100 species occupying tropical oceans worldwide. They are nocturnal hunters who prey on other eels, fish and mollusks. They have poor hearing and eyesight, but a keen sense of smell which makes them a formidable predator. Groupers, barracudas and larger moray eels are their only natural enemies. Humans do not generally hunt moray eels as many of the species are toxic to us.
Morays are scaleless and cover their camouflaged bodies with protective mucus. They have small circular gills and their mouths must remain open to facilitate breathing. The moray eel has many sharp, backward curving teeth and can inflict serious wounds on both their prey and humans. Not intentionally aggressive, the moray can not always distinguish between potential food and a diver’s curious fingers. Moray eels generally reach 5 feet in length, but a species inhabiting the Pacific Ocean can grow to lengths of 10 feet.
Fun Eel Facts
- Morays have the ability to tie their bodies in knots and use this to gain leverage when tearing food.
- Electric eels are not true eels at all. They are knifefish.
- The eel can swim forwards as well as backwards.
- Eels can travel on land for short distances.
[Who Zoo] Animal Index, Green Moray Eel, The Electric Eel