10 Incredible Moray Eel Facts

Written by Janet F. Murray
Updated: August 29, 2023
© iStock.com/Vitalii Kalutskyi
Share this post on:


Listen to Article

What comes to mind when you think of eels or moray eel facts? Slimy water creatures that live in the ocean and are probably dangerous? If so, you’re not alone.

Did you know all of these facts about Moray Eels?

Eels have a bit of a bad reputation – thanks partly to their appearance and the fact that most people only know about them from watching the movie Finding Nemo. But there’s more to moray eels than meets the eye, and here we take a closer look at these unique animals. So stick with us as we cover ten incredible moray eel facts that will make you see these creatures in a new light!

1. Deceptive Appearance

Types of rare fish - Eel
One of the more fascinating moray eel facts is that their mouths are open and gaping because this is how they breathe.

©Ewa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Only The Top 1% Can Ace our Animal Quizzes

Think You Can?

Moray eels inhabit tropical and subtropical waters around the world. These exciting creatures have long, cylindrical bodies with smooth, scaleless skin. Over 200 species of moray eels vary from brown or black or variations of green, blue, yellow, or white. Moray eels are often mistaken for sea snakes but belong to the fish family. Despite their serpentine appearance, moray eels are not typically aggressive towards humans unless threatened.

2. Gaping Mouth for a Good Reason

Moray eel
Moray eels are one of the original mouth breathers.

©Leonard Low / Creative Commons

If you’re a beginner scuba diver, you might be intimidated the first time you see a moray eel opening its mouth. You might think the eel is threatening, but it’s just how this species breathes. Most fish have bony gill covers located on both sides of their bodies. The fish open and close these covers to expel water and breathe. However, since the moray eel doesn’t have bony gill covers, it must pump water through its gills with its mouth.

3. What’s That Smell?

Trial frame, test eyeglasses on chart
Moray eels rely heavily on their sense of smell.

©iStock.com/Komthong Wongsangiam

Moray eels are a type of fish known for their poor eyesight. However, many people don’t understand that these eels have a keen sense of smell. Their olfactory sense is so sensitive that they use it to track prey hidden from view. This ability to smell their quarry helps them to survive and thrive in the underwater world. As a result, they are a fascinating example of how adaptable and resilient creatures can be.

4. Teamwork Is Just Part of Everyday Moral Eel Facts

Largest eels - green moray
Green moray eels are dark brown or gray, but they look green because of the yellow mucus they secrete.

©Leonardo Gonzalez/Shutterstock.com

Moray eels are strange and fascinating creatures. One of the most intriguing things about them is their hunting behavior. Although they are solitary creatures, they often hunt alongside grouper fish. While researchers are unsure how exactly they collaborate or communicate hunting strategies, it seems it begins with a head nod one to another. They work jointly to corral their victim into a tight group when hunting. Once their target is trapped, it’s feast time!

5. Moral Eels Have Not One but Two Jaws

white eyed moray eel around Koh Tao, Thailand
There is a set of jaws in eels’ throats to help move food downwards.

©Didier Barriere Doleac/Shutterstock.com

Many people do not realize that moray eels have not one but two sets of jaws. The first set of jaws and teeth, known as the pharyngeal jaws, is located in the eel’s throat, grabbing prey and moving it towards the eel’s stomach. The second set of jaws with its tiny sharp teeth, the maxillary jaws, is located in the eel’s mouth. These jaws are for eating prey. It’s no wonder they are such successful predators.

6. Moray Eel with a Difference

Zebra Moray (Gymnomuraena zebra)
The zebra moray eel has dull teeth.

©Philippe Bourjon / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

As we have established, Moray eels are a type of fish known for their sharp teeth. However, there is one variety of moray eel that has blunt teeth. This species is the zebra moray eel (Gymnomuraena zebra). The zebra moray eel is the only variety that has dull teeth. Blunt teeth are essential since their diet consists primarily of crabs, clams, mollusks, and sea urchins, which require solid jaws and specialized grinding teeth. If you ever happen to see one up close, you will be amazed by its unusual teeth!

7. Not for the Pot

Water boils in a stainless steel pan on a gas stove.
Moray eels are not great for human consumption.

©VladK213/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Moray eels are a popular choice for aquariums because of their unique appearance. Still, certain species are among the most toxic creatures in the ocean. Moray eels contain high levels of poison in their flesh, which can be deadly. For example, humans who consume moray eels can suffer from acute toxicity, leading to severe illness or death. It is vital to be aware of the potential dangers of consuming moray eels and avoid eating them.

8. Not the Real Deal – A True or False Moray Eel Fun Fact

Moray eel
Some moray eels have two rows of teeth in their top jaws.

©Steve Childs / Creative Commons

The mouth is the best place to start when looking for a true moray eel. True morays also have a significantly larger mouth than false morays. If you’re still doubtful, take a look at the dorsal fin. On a false moray, this is only on the tail end. On a true moray, however, it extends from behind the gills back to below the base of the tail. Finally, false morays are generally smaller than true morays, with a maximum length of around three feet compared to the six-foot full size of a true moray. By learning to identify these distinct anatomical differences, you can be sure to find the real deal next time you’re in search of a moray eel.

9. Double the Length

Largest eels - Giant Moray
Giant moray eels grow to 13 feet long with a diameter of 8 inches.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

Giant moray eels can grow to be a whopping 13 feet long, making them one of the largest species in the world. Despite its size, it is relatively slender, with a diameter of only about 8 inches. This eel swims in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region, from India to Hawaii. It is usually brown or green, with dark spots or bands running along its body. The average size of most moray eel species is only about 3 to 6 feet long, so the giant moray eel is truly a giant among its peers. It is undoubtedly one of the most noteworthy and impressive.

10. More Moray Eel Facts – A Name With a Story

The Moray eel’s name started from the Ancient Greek word muraina, which means eel.

©iStock.com/Vitalii Kalutskyi

Moray eels belong to the Muraenidae family. The Moray eel’s name started from the Ancient Greek word muraina, which means eel, and the term morphed into English in the 17th century as moray. So, you see, even its name is fascinating. Exploring more intriguing facts on Moray eels would be worth your while.

Share this post on:
About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Informa, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00212210.1997.10688920
  2. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ar.1092430402
  3. Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information, Available here: https://koreascience.kr/article/JAKO202019163741055.page
  4. PLOS, Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040431
  5. Pascal and Francis Bibliographic Databases, Available here: https://pascal-francis.inist.fr/vibad/index.php?action=getRecordDetail&idt=PASCAL7850431771
  6. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1442464
  7. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Available here: https://meridian.allenpress.com/copeia/article-abstract/2003/1/44/259014/Activity-Patterns-Diet-and-Shelter-Site-Use-for
  8. Elsevier B.V. (1970) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S105579031000312X 
  9. Elsevier B.V., Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/004101019190209A
  10. Informa, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/19401736.2012.710226