Perhaps one of the most peculiar fish in the world is the moray eel. Moray eels are long and slender, their bodies are not shaped like an average fish, and they don’t have pectoral and pelvic fins. This makes moray eels look more like a snake than fish. With their long bodies, aggressive nature, and frightening razor-sharp teeth, you may not want to come close with them. They always seem to be baring their teeth, which adds to their aggressive image, but they only keep their mouths agape to help them breathe. Despite that, moray eels are indeed aggressive and dangerous, and they are known to lash out and attack divers from rocky crevices once they feel threatened or cornered. Moray eels are a very deadly fish, attacking with their lightning-fast reflex. Moray eel teeth are terrifying as they are outside, but many do not know that the superficial teeth seen in their mouths are just the tip of the iceberg.
Apart from their odd and terrifying facade, moray eels are incredibly huge for an eel. The giant moray eel alone reaches nearly 10 feet long and weighs about 66 pounds, while the slender giant moray eel has been discovered to grow up to 13 feet in length. Apart from their likeness to snakes in terms of physical appearance, moray eels have poor eyesight as well, yet an excellent sense of smell helps them track and search for prey even in dark ocean waters and depths of 130 feet below sea level. Equipped with very sharp teeth and a vice-like grip, moray eels are adept hunters in their habitat.
What Kind of Teeth Do Moray Eels Have?
Moray eels have razor-sharp teeth that are easily spotted at first glance. The moray eel teeth are specifically built to grip their prey as they are thin, sharp, and strategically pointed backward to help keep slippery prey such as fish, squid, jellyfish, other eels, and octopus from escaping. Some moray eel species have teeth protruding from the roof of their mouths to assist in pulling their food in.
Moray eels catch their victim by surprise and coil their bodies around it until it is compressed enough to be devoured. Other species of moray eels choose to tear their prey apart using their razor-sharp teeth and then eat them in a single bite.
The moray eel’s mouth, jaws, and teeth work together to create a firm, vice-like grip that holds their victims tightly. Their sharp, thin teeth protrude both from the upper and lower mandibles and sometimes protrude from the roof of their mouth, making these eels’ teeth structure terrifying.
Do Moray Eels Have Double Teeth?
Many do not know that moray eels have weapons concealed deep within their throat. Apart from their sharp teeth in their oral cavity, moray eels have a second set of teeth located in their throat. This set of teeth is called “pharyngeal teeth.” These teeth are mainly used to break up their victim’s flesh to aid digestion.
Interestingly, moray eels do not have just one set of teeth. They have two of them –the first set is the visible razor-sharp teeth attached to the jaws, and the second set is the pharyngeal teeth located at the eel’s throat. Once the moray eel catches its prey using its sharp front teeth, the pharyngeal teeth immediately grab it and push it down to the eel’s esophagus.
Apart from the second set of teeth, moray eels are also studied to have a second set of jaws, called the pharyngeal jaw. This second set of jaws in their throat is supported by muscles that work like bungee-jumping cords, giving the pharyngeal jaws a nudge to sling back and forth. This extra force provides them better help in crushing and grinding their food.
What Do Moray Eels Use Their Teeth For?
Moray eels have two sets of teeth – one is used to catch and grip their prey, and the other is used to grab and pull the prey down to their esophagus for crushing and digesting. The first set located at the eel’s oral cavity initiates feeding. These curved, piercing razor-sharp teeth seize the eel’s victim by biting heavily and holding on to it. The teeth inside the oral cavity curve backward and point towards the eel’s throat to help better latch on its prey and to keep it from escaping the eel’s grasp.
Once the eel’s jaws in the oral cavity have captured its prey, the second batch of toothy jaws in the throat, positioned behind the eel’s skull, surges forward to seize and transport the victim deep into the moray eel’s gullet.
According to a study, moray eels are the only known fish to use their pharyngeal jaws and teeth in keeping their prey from escaping and transporting them to their digestive tract. The study also states that around 30,000 other fish species have pharyngeal teeth, but all of them are used only in crushing and grinding their victims. Only the moray eel possesses such essential and unique function.
Do Moray Eels Bite Humans?
Like most dangerous fish at sea, moray eels do not purposely attack humans without feeling threatened or cornered. Most divers unknowingly hold onto rocky areas where moray eels reside, which usually frightens and disturbs them, causing them to lash out and bite the intruder in self-defense.
Moray eels’ bites on humans are generally not venomous, but they can lead to infections if not acted upon quickly. More vicious bites can result in stitches and even long-term injuries or loss of body parts. Moray eels are also considered a dangerous type of fish because apart from their vicious bite, their flesh may also contain toxins that can be dangerous to humans.
Moray eels always leave their mouth partially open even when not attacking, which exposes their sharp teeth. Many think that this is the moray eel’s way of threatening humans and other animals, but in reality, moray eels always leave their mouth open to help them breathe.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Natursports/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.