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Green Moray Eel And Nurse Shark In An Underwater Cave

Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris)

The green moray eel (Gymnothorax funebris), and over 800 other species of eels, belong to the order Anguilliformes. Members are characterized by elongated bodies, wave-like swimming motion, fused dorsal, caudal & anal fins and a lack of pelvic fins.

Here are a few fascinating facts about the green moray eel.

 #1: Where does the green moray eel live? 

Green moray eels are found in the western Atlantic Ocean living in a variety of habitats including coral reefs, rocky tidal areas, mangroves and sandy bottoms. They are a fairly common species to see while snorkeling or diving so keep your eyes peeled!

Green moray eel in coral reef
Photo Credit: James Kelley

 #2: Why are they named green moray eels? 

The green moray eel isn’t really green. It is actually brown, but it has a layer of yellow mucus covering its whole body, which gives it that green color. This mucus protects the eel from things like parasites and bacteria.

Green moray eel resting on sea floor
Photo Credit: shaundoylephoto

 #3: How do green moray eels breathe? 

The reason why green moray eels are continually opening and closing their mouths isn’t a display of threatening behavior, but instead it’s how they breathe. This action consistently flushes oxygen-rich water over their gills.

Green moray eel with jaw open.
Photo Credit: TrevorjcBrown

 #4: Green moray eels have a strong sense of smell. 

Green morays are not known for having very good eyesight. However, they make up for this with a strong sense of smell, which helps them hunt at night. Two distinct nostrils on the end of their snout are used to seek out prey like fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, as well as locate spawning sites.

Green moray eel face
Photo Credit: Clark Anderson

 #5: Green moray eels exhibit predation strategies. 

Green morays are ambush predators that will prey on any fish, crustacean or cephalopod. If prey is too large to consume whole, the eel will wrap itself around their prey in a knot and tear it into smaller pieces. As a top predator, it benefits from having few predators of its own. Eels also take part in something called nuclear hunting, in which they team up with coral grouper to flush out prey into the open to catch it.

Green moray eel in a cave
Photo Credit: Jacopo Werther

 #6: Unique adaptations of the green moray eel 

The green moray eel has an incredibly clever adaptation it uses to survive. Green morays have two sets of jaws, one in their mouths and a second set in their throats, which is used to move eaten prey down into their esophagus. This is called the pharyngeal jaw, and without it they could not be as fierce of a predator as they are!

Green moray eel resting on a rock
Photo credit: johnandersonphoto

 #7: The green moray eel is a solitary species. 

Moray eels are mostly nocturnal, solitary animals, which leave their hiding places at night to hunt. While diving or snorkeling, you might see one resting in cracks and crevices of the reef during the day. Occasionally you may be lucky enough to see one swimming in the open and can appreciate just how large they can get – up to 8 feet long!

Green moray eel swimming with SCUBA diver
Photo Credit: Michael Zeigle

 #8: Green moray eels are absentee parents. 

Green moray eels definitely aren’t the best parents. The female will lay eggs in a spawning site, and then the males will come along and fertilize them. After fertilization the parent eels have no further involvement. The fertilized eggs are left to develop alone and unprotected, floating on top of the water until they hatch into larvae. The larvae will float with the plankton for several months while they develop into young adult eels. It’s every eel for itself!

Green moray eel swimming in open water
Photo credit: P Lindgren

Green moray eels are normally calm and curious. However, they can be very territorial and you may get bitten if you put them on the defensive or accidentally put your hand in their cave. Although not a species currently threatened, they still face habitat challenges due to them making their homes in coral reefs, an ecosystem under pressure. With climate change, ocean acidification and other threats to coral reefs growing, habitat loss and a reduction in food availability for the green moray eel is concerning. By taking extra care during diving and respecting the coral reef and animals that live there, we can help keep the moray eel population healthy long term.


Additional Green Moray Eel Resources:
1. Florida Museum of Natural History
2. Australian Museum

Laura Jessop

Laura Jessop

I am an ocean enthusiast that has worked previously and continue to help at Local Ocean Conservation which is a non-profit organisation based in Kenya. I helped with the efforts of protecting sea turtles that have been caught as by-catch in the Indian Ocean. I help them digitalise and manage over 20 years worth of data that they have collected. Currently I am a remote intern here at ANGARI and very excited to help with the amazing work they conduct.

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