The Dragon Moray Eel, Enchelycore pardalis is also known as the Dragon Eel and the Leopard Moray Eel. The reference to Leopard comes from their scientific name, with paradalis meaning leopard in Greek. They are very rarely seen in Tanzanian waters perhaps both because they are rare and because they are one of the more reclusive eels around.
The Dragon Moray Eel grows up to 80 cm in length and has a serpentine shaped body which has quite variable coloring. The body may be either white , yellow, orange or dark brown but is usually a brown color spotted with the other colors and they have a large number of spots across the body.
Moray eels have two sets of nostrils, the anterior nostrils on the end of the nose and the posterior nostrils near the eyes. On the Dragon Moray both sets are elongated with the posterior being particularly long and thick. The mouth which cannot close completely has a row of long thin backwards curving teeth on each jaw with a further row down the center of the upper palate. The teeth in the upper jaw are longer than those in the lower jaw.
The inside of the mouth is colored in much the same fashion at the face which has a mixture of white , yellow , brown or orange markings on it. Each specimen seems to have its own unique set of marks on it.
IN THE WILD
Dragon Moray Eel are usually nocturnal feeders and spend the days in crevices in the rocks. They are not common and are rarely seen. When they are seen they are usually on a large feature with good hiding places. More often than not there are large numbers of cardinalfish and sweepers in the vicinity.
Moray eels have proportionately small circular gills, located on posterior of the mouth and 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. They will bite if threatened.
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 could take it.
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.
The Dragon Moray Eel is widespread across the Indo-Pacific area, being found from the East Coast of Africa from south of Durban northwards, Red Sea included, across to the Pitcairn group, Hawaiian islands and Polynesia. North to Japan and south to New Caledonia, Fiji and Australia.
They are found in rocky reefs, coral reefs and occasionally in lagoons provided there is shelter. They are found from depths of 1 to 60 meters but we have always only seen them between 12 to 14 meters on seaward reef and always on a large feature.
The Dragon Moray Eel is carnivorous, and does most of its hunting at night. They feed mainly on small fish and crustaceans. Moray Eels have relatively poor eye sight but they have an excellent sense of smell that they use to detect their prey. They are known to knot their body when dealing with larger prey to gain leverage.
Moray eels have a second set of jaws in their throat called pharyngeal jaws, which also have teeth. When feeding, morays latch onto the prey with their outer jaws. They then push their pharyngeal jaws which are set back in the pharanx, forward into the mouth. They then grasp the prey and pull it into the throat and 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 favoured food.
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.
Dragon Moray eels are kept in aquariums and are collected in many areas for sale in the aquarium trade. Demand outstrips supply and in many areas they are increasingly rare. A mated pair can sell for as much as USD 6000.
The Dragon Moray Eel, being attractive looking and relatively small and more peaceful than the other larger species of Moray Eel are highly sought after by aquarists. They are said to be relatively easy to keep with most specimens switching to feeding in an aquarium. A good filtration system is recommended.
Being carnivores they will take smaller fish and tank mates should be larger. Being eels they will certainly try and leave their tank and the top should be very well secured to prevent this. Many aquarists have come home to find their prized specimen dried out on the floor and it is best to avoid this.