The Honeycomb moray (Gymnothorax favagineus) also known as the leopard or laced moray is one of the larger more attractive morays.
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.
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. Most Moray Eels have additional rows of teeth on the top of their upper pallet and these can be clearly seen in the specimen below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Some images by Eric Beaume
- The Reef Guide fishes, corals, nudibranchs & other invertebrates: East and South Coasts of Southern Africa by Dennis King & Valda Fraser