Moray Eel

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Moray Eel


Last updated: May 23, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Bobjgalindo / Creative Commons

Sometimes, groupers invite moray eels to help them hunt!

Moray Eel Scientific Classification

Scientific Name

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Moray Eel Conservation Status

Moray Eel Locations

Moray Eel Locations

Moray Eel Facts

Main Prey
Fish, Squid, Crustaceans
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Sometimes, groupers invite moray eels to help them hunt!
Estimated Population Size
Most Distinctive Feature
Two sets of jaws — one at the front of their mouths and one (pharyngeal) in their throats
Distinctive Feature
A long dorsal fin that can run the length of their back
Optimum PH Level
Coastal and deep waters
Favorite Food
Common Name
Moray Eel

Moray Eel Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Orange
Skin Type
10-30 years
4.5 inches to 13 feet

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View all of the Moray Eel images!

There are more kinds than you think!

When most people think of a moray eel they think of a huge, secretive eel with tiny, cold eyes and jaws full of impressive fangs. But did you know there are over 200 species of these eels, and they live from the depths of the ocean to freshwater rivers? Read on to learn more about these spectacular creatures.

4 Incredible Facts!

  1. Groupers sometimes invite moray eels to help them hunt.
  2. Most of these fish live in saltwater, though Gymnothorax polyuranodon, the many-toothed moray, lives in freshwater, including rivers and estuaries.
  3. These fish have small gills, so they need to open their mouths to pump oxygenated water through them. This is why so many moray eels are seen with their mouths open. The open mouth is not a sign that the fish is getting ready to attack.
  4. The moray eel has two sets of jaws. The first is in its mouth, but the second is in its throat.

Classification and Scientific Name

Moray eels belong to the Muraenidae family. The name comes from mūrēna, which is Latin for the Mediterranean moray eel. This word in turn comes from the Greek word muraina. There are 16 genera and over 200 species.


The look of the moray has a long, laterally compressed body and is scaleless. These eels have a long dorsal fin that can run the length of their back, but they lack pelvic and pectoral fins. They have long snouts with tiny nostrils, and the type of teeth in the jaws depends on the diet. Some of these fish have two rows of teeth in their top jaw. The California moray has teeth in the roof of its mouth that can fold back to give it a firm bite as it holds its prey. Some morays have teeth that are pointed and curved while others have teeth that resemble human molars. These teeth evolved in morays that need to crush the shells of crustaceans. All moray eels have pharyngeal jaws that shoot into the mouth, rather Xenomorph-like, to help hold on to prey.

Besides this, moray eels come in many sizes, from the diminutive, 4.5-inch long Snyder’s moray eel to the 13-foot slender giant moray eel. The eels also come in a variety of colors and patterns, but they lack scales and protect their skin with toxic mucus. Their eyes are small, and they don’t see well but depend largely on their sense of smell. This is fine as most moray eels are nocturnal.

Largest eels - green moray
Green moray eels are actually dark brown or gray, but they look green because they secrete a yellow mucus

Leonardo Gonzalez/

Giant Eel

Also called the red moray, the giant moray eel, Gymnothorax javanicus isn’t the longest of the morays, for that title belongs to the slender giant moray. However, it is the heaviest. A large animal can weigh as much as 66 pounds and grow to nearly 10 feet in length. Its body is usually brown but red individuals have been seen, and adults have black spots in the area behind their head. It is found in the Indo-Pacific area and can range from Hawaii to southern Japan. It is found in coral reefs and lagoons and spends most of its days hidden in crevices up to 164 feet deep.

Green Moray Eel

The green moray eel, Gymnothorax funebris isn’t actually green. Its skin is either dark brown or gray, but the mucus secreted by the skin is yellow, which gives the eel a green color. A large green moray can be over 8 feet long and weigh nearly 64 pounds, but most of them are around 6 feet and weigh about 30 pounds. In contrast to the giant moray, the green moray is found in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean and can be found from New Jersey south to Brazil. This eel lives in coral reefs, harbors, mangroves, and other inter-tidal areas.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

These fish are found in warmer waters all over the world. They thrive in both shallow waters and relatively deeper, benthic areas of the oceans. Though scientists don’t know their exact numbers, moray eels are especially numerous in habitats that offer them cover, such as those with rock formations or crevices.

The actual population of moray eels is unknown, but scientists do know that of the millions of eggs released during the spawning period, few hatch, and even fewer larvae reach maturity. As of 2022, the conservation status of most moray eels is least concern.

Predators and Prey

The largest of the moray eels are most likely the apex predators in their areas, but moray eels are prey for fish such as barracudas and sharks. Humans also kill moray eels, as do sea snakes. These fish prey upon smaller fish, crustaceans, and octopuses. They’ll attack and eat any sort of animal that they can either gulp down or tear into manageable bits.

Reproduction and Lifespan

When it comes to reproduction, most moray eels don’t seem to have a breeding season but breed when the circumstances, such as abundant food, are right. Some moray eels migrate a small distance to a spawning site. Once there, the female releases as many as 10,000 eggs with a chemical that attracts males to the area so they can fertilize them. After this, the eels return to their usual home range and take no more care of their offspring.

The eggs hatch after about five or six weeks into pre-larvae which subsist on the tiny animals found in the zooplankton. Depending on the species, they can spend two years drifting on the currents until they’re mature enough to hunt and find shelter.

Moray Eel in Fishing and Cooking

Though some people eat moray eel, this is inadvisable as the eel often is ciguatoxic. Eating a contaminated eel can cause ciguatera fish poisoning, a potentially serious disease.

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and — of course — pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Moray Eel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do moray eels eat humans?

Moray eels are not known to eat humans, but the bite of a large eel is powerful and can inflict a grievous wound.

Is the moray eel poisonous?

Moray eels have poison in the slime that covers their skin, and they often have very high levels of ciguatoxin. This makes them dangerous to eat.

Can a moray eel shock you?

Unlike electric eels, moray eels do not shock you. You still wouldn’t want one of the larger ones to attack and bite you.

Is a moray eel electric?

Moray eels are not electric.

How big is a giant moray eel?

Sharks do eat moray eels, and a large shark is one of the few animals that can tackle a large moray eel.

  1. Fish Base, Available here:
  2. Wikipedia, Available here:
  3. Guinness World Records, Available here:
  4. Ocean Today NOAA, Available here:
  5. Aqua, Available here:
  6. UniGuide, Available here:

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