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Green Moray Eel

You would be hard pressed to call this sea creature “cute.” “Creepy” is more fitting. The green moray (Gymnothorax funebris) resembles an ominous serpent-head uttering silent screams as its mouth endlessly opens and closes. But don’t be fooled by this menacing façade.

Green morays average 6 feet long and 30 pounds. (The largest specimen recorded was 10 feet long.) This reclusive, solitary animal is not considered dangerous, yet its enormous mouth contains rows of sharp teeth in both jaws and along the roof. Divers—whose arms may resemble an octopus to the poor-sighted moray—might suffer a nasty bite if they incautiously probe a lair.

Green morays occupy shallow, rocky shorelines, reefs and mangroves in the western Atlantic from New Jersey to Brazil. Their thick, scale-free, drab gray skin is bathed in protective, yellowy mucus that tints them green. We typically see their heads jutting out of rock crevices, prime hideouts for shielding them from lurking predators and unwary prey. Reclusive by day, they hunt at night for invertebrates, fishes and other favorites and can tie themselves in knots to gain leverage for tearing prey.

Green morays move by undulating their flattened bodies into lateral waves. This efficient stroke, called anguilliform swimming, enables them to swim backward as well. The mouth acts like a pump, constantly opening and closing to force water over the gills. Look for our moray’s spiky teeth when you visit the Caribbean Reef. Yet have no fear. It’s just its wide-mouthed way of taking a breath.

 

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