In Defense of the Moray

19858291626_2ce47bf8df_oThere has lately been another round of vilifying snakes, and more recently spiders, accusing them of everything from hunting down humans to original sin, when in fact from my experience the only spider I’ve ever had to be cautious about were the Brazilian wandering spiders in Peru that were happy enough to crawl into bed with you, and as for snakes, other than scares when not watching where you stepped on a trail, a rare occurrence of a Fer-de-Lance when riding in Belize that had just been disturbed by the horse in front.

This nonsensical scaremongering has just surfaced (resurfaced) concerning Moray Eels (Muraenidae; Anguilliformes), with a so-called “expert” aquarium vendor accusing them of being “poisonous” and causing harm to aquarium hobbyists with their “willingness to aggressively snap at your hand,” so let’s get this straight:

1. Moray eels would only be poisonous if you ate them, but actually eating them, other than large specimens that might have ciguatera, is not a problem- the accusation meant to say they were venomous, which of course they are not! (poisonous, you eat it; venomous, it “eats” you!);

2. Moray eels do possess a menacing appearance, with their mouths constantly agape but while an opened mouth display appears frightful, especially when coupled with pointed fangs, the eel’s physiology requires this behavior- its mouth must remain open to allow water to be pumped into the oral cavity, then over the gills by muscles located in the gill cavity and attached to the mandible or lower jawbone, the apparent “snapping” actually them gulping in water;

and 3. most moray eel species have limited vision and instead rely on a highly evolved sense of smell, so if you happen to be attempting to feed one and your fingers are too close, duh, that was you sticking your fingers where the eel was going for the food- this too is the only time I’ve ever seen a barracuda cause harm when a diver was feeding squid to a ray and left his fingers out in the fishy open when a small barracuda struck for the free food at 43 km/h! (no, they don’t chase you up the beach either!);

oh, and 4. stick your hand into a hole (including a confined space in an aquarium!), or step on the reef when diving/snorkeling, you’re asking for trouble as most fish don’t particularly like getting poked or trampled!

So here are a few of my favourite Morays, all photographed a mere few inches from the lens (patience and a non-threatening approach):

17216844478_dfa4e4814f_oYellow Moray (Gymnothorax prasinus); Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

19703310230_3a46d4f207_oChain Moray (Echidna catenata), one of the “pebble-toothed” species; Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

19942938446_b7e612efa4_oGoldentail Moray (Gymnothorax miliaris); Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

19264399773_c66cb34216_oSpotted Moray (Gymnothorax moringa), Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

19376467838_bc385eaed1_onot a Moray, but a Sharptail Snake-eel (Myrichthys breviceps), primarily a crab feeder which would explain its constant search, snake-like, through seagrass beds, and into crevices amongst the corals; Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

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