Moray Eels may appear scary, lying within a crevice, mouth gaping open with their short needle-like teeth, beady eyes and serpent-like body. This gaping action is actually the Moray Eel breathing, as it allows water to pass through its small gills. They lie in wait to ambush prey that swims past their crevice, as they possess poor eyesight, or they wait for the dark of night when they can hunt using their acute sense of smell.
One feature of the Moray Eel that may be scary, and the feature that is said to have inspired the film “Aliens”, is the possession of a second jaw. The skull and, therefore the mouth, is too narrow to create a vacuum sucking effect to capture and swallow prey like other fish. When feeding, the Moray launches the second jaw, called “pharyngeal “ jaws, forward into the mouth from which position, it grabs the prey caught with the front teeth and pulls it back into the throat and digestive system for consumption. Some other fish also possess a second jaw, but Morays are the only marine species to actively use this second jaw to capture and restrain prey.
Moray Eels swim over coral and rocky sea bottoms, without incurring an injury, by excreting a large amount of slime from their bellies. This mucus also helps sand-dwelling Morays build strong and permanent burrows, as sand granules stick to the mucus and is later attached to the sides of the burrow making it more stable. There are just over 200 known species, ranging in length from as small as 11.5 centimetres up to 3 metres! This last, is known as a Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) which is the one most frequently spotted by snorkelers on ABC Snorkel Charters tours, maybe because of its imposing size. Sighting a Giant Moray is always exciting and is a precious memory to take home when the day is done.
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