Honeycomb Moray Eel-Facts and Photographs

 laced moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard moray, or honeycomb moray

The Honeycomb moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard or laced moray is one of the larger more attractive morays.

APPEARANCE

The Honeycomb moray eel is a light whitish brown to yellowish background color with dark brown honeycomb shaped spots. There are enlarged canine teeth at the front of the upper jaw. The mouth is proportionately wide with teeth designed for tearing flesh rather than grinding or holding in place. They do not have pectoral or pelvic fins and the dorsal fin runs the length of the body. The Honeycomb moray eels grow up to two meters in length making them a close contender in size for the largest moray. The Giant moray has a slightly more robust body when at these lengths.

Toxins

Some researchers speculate that moray eels contain toxins in their mouths and are poisonous.From many years of catching crayfish on the Kwa Zulu Natal coast I have never had a bite go sceptic. After every bite I have soaked the bite area in hot water as hot as I can take it. Much of the bite damage occurs when one pulls ones hand back after being bitten. Many experts say that one should not pull back, however they should go try it themselves. The bite is usually sudden and unexpected and it is natural to pull away from it.  I have personally seen one diver who lost the use of his thumb from a giant moray bite but that is unusual.

Morays secrete mucus over their scaleless skin, which in some species contains toxins. They have a thick skin and a large number of cells that secrete  mucus epidermis.

 laced moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard moray, tessellate moray or honeycomb moray

IN THE WILD

The Honeycomb moray eel are generally seen protruding from a hole or small cave during the day and are seldom if ever seen in the open. They are not aggressive but should be treated with caution because of their sharp teeth. They are nocturnal  hunters.

Moray eels have proportionately small  circular gills, located on posterior of the mouth and as a result the moray is constantly opening and closing its mouth to facilitate sufficient water flow over its gills. In general the opening and closing of the mouth is not threatening behavior but one should not approach too closely.

Larger specimens of the Honeycomb moray are often trained by divers to take food from their hands. This is probably not a sensible thing to do as it makes the eel vulnerable to capture by other less well intentioned divers. Additionally because of their size and speed of attack they can deliver a fearsome bite.

When confronted with a prey too large to swallow the Honeycomb moray latches onto its prey. It then knots its tail and passes the knot up to the head and onto the prey. It simultaneously pulls its head back through the knot. This provides considerable leverage for it to rip a large chunk out of its prey.

Having personally been bitten by several of these eels while catching crayfish in Kwa-Zulu Natal, I can assure you they have a fearsome bite.

 laced moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard moray, tessellate moray or honeycomb moray

HABITAT

The Honeycomb moray eel is found across the Indian ocean and in the west Pacific. They are found from two meters in depth down to 45 meters.

 

 laced moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard moray, tessellate moray or honeycomb moray

DIET

The whitemouth moray eel is carnivorous, and does most of its hunting at night. They feed mainly on small fish and octopus but the fact that they are on occasion caught by fishermen using bait indicates that they will scavenge as well.

Moray eels have a second set of toothed jaws in their throat called pharyngeal jaws. When feeding, morays latch onto the prey with their outer jaws. They then push their pharyngeal jaws, which are set back in the pharynx, forward into the mouth. These jaws then grasp the prey and pull it back into the stomach. Moray eels are the only fish that use pharyngeal jaws to capture prey. Their main hunting tool is their excellent sense of smell which makes up for their poor eyesight. This means that weakened or dead creatures are the moray eel’s favored food.

 laced moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard moray, tessellate moray or honeycomb moray

REPRODUCTION

Studies have shown hermaphroditism in morays, some being sequential and others  synchronous which can reproduce with either sex. Courtship usually occurs when water temperatures are high. After posturing to each other they wrap their bodies around each other and simultaneously release sperm and eggs. Once they hatch the larvae float in the ocean for around 8 months before becoming elvers and eventually a moray eel.

COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION

 Ciguatoxin, the main toxin of ciguatera, is produced by a toxic dinoflagellate and accumulated up through the food chain, of which moray eels are top, making them potentially dangerous for humans to eat. They are fished and do take bait.

Once caught they are extremely troublesome to deal with. They wrap around the line and secrete a large amount of mucus and as a result the line has to be changed. As with the mucus from puffer fish, no other fish will bite on the line once it has the mucus on it. It is not uncommon for a caught moray eel to actually bite its self while it is busy wrapping around the line.

AQUARIUMS

Because of their attractive looks they are kept in aquariums.  Due to their size of up to two meters in length they should only be kept in a very large aquarium. They are easy to feed and are hardy. They cannot be kept in a reef tank as they will eat crustaceans and fish and are likely to push rocks over that are not well anchored.

HONEYCOMB MORAY  EEL CLASSIFICATION

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Anguilliformes
Family: Muraenidae
Genus: Gymnothorax
Species:G. favagineus

Some images by Eric Beaume

LITERATURE CITED

The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates
East and South Coasts of Southern Africa
Dennis King & Valda Fraser

EQUIPMENT USED

Canon 7D

Ikelite 7D Housing

Twin Ikelite DS 161 Strobes

Flat Ikelite Lens Port

Ikelite Dual Synch Cord 

Ikelite 5.1 inch Port body

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.