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Family Muraenidae
Moray Eels
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Anguilliformes
Key Features: Scaleless eel shaped body. Median fins confluent with caudal. Pelvic and pectoral fins are absent.
Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Muraena lentiginosa
Gymnothorax castaneus

Jewel Moray
Panamic Green Moray
Moray Eel Sea of Cortez scuba photo
 

Family Muraenidae
Moray Eels (Morenas)


Cruising the rocky crevices of the reefs of the Sea of Cortez, divers may be assured that sooner or later they will come face to face with a moray eel.  The gaping jaw and snakelike body belies the peaceful and shy nature of these animals.  With a gill slit that is reduced to a small oval or circular opening posterior to the mouth, keeping the mouth open aids in effective respiration and contractions in the jaw and throat provides a pumping action. While typically docile and retiring, these eels do posses rows of sharp, needlelike teeth, so taunting or otherwise molesting these organisms is ill advised.   

A moray may occasionally snap up food items that pass by its daytime lair, but this is infrequent at best, as their eyesight is generally considered to be poor.  Instead, moray eels are nocturnal predators, relying on their highly-developed sense of smell to search out hidden prey items, as their scale-less bodies wriggle with ease through the jumbles of rock that characterize reef communities throughout the Gulf of California. 

Within the Sea of Cortez, there exist sixteen species of moray eels from eight genera.  The largest eel species in the Gulf is the Panamic green moray, Gymnothorax castaneus.  Besides being the largest, this is also the most aggressive eel in the Sea of Cortez.  It is not unusual to find these eels leaving their dens during the day if wounded prey is present.  These have also been associated with a few painful human bites when mishandled, and have even been observed swimming alongside divers at night, swooping in to attack the reef fishes temporarily blinded by the diver’s lights.  Another common moray in the central and southern Sea of Cortez is the beautiful jewel moray, Muraena lentiginosa, identified by chainlike rows of light spots surrounded by dark brown rings.  

 

Updated August 28, 2009

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