24 January 2011

An angle on eels

Sally Shaw
Beautiful honeycomb moray eel at the Aquarium.

Moray eels are top predators in ocean reef ecosystems – kind of like a lion or a cheetah, in their own watery worlds.

They hide in caves and crevices and wait for their fishy prey to swim past. Sometimes they hide in sea grass expecting to make an ambush and octopuses are some of their favourite food.

Morays generally hunt prey which they can gobble up in a single bite, but when they catch something bigger, they tie them up in knots. Literally. Morays have the ability to tie their tails in a knot, in which they entrap larger prey, and can move these knots – and the prey – up and down the length of their bodies at will to make feeding easier.

Moray eels have teeth and divers know that once a moray bites down, it doesn’t let go. However, they are generally shy animals and only show aggression if they are disturbed suddenly. Divers have made numerous reports of “friendly” morays.


Although they are often mistaken for sea snakes, morays are actually fish. There are around 200 species in the world and three types are common in South African waters: the honeycomb moray eel – like the magnificent specimens at the Aquarium; the yellow-edged moray eel; and the slender giant moray eel, which grows to a whopping 4m.

Read more about moray eels and get down to the Aquarium soon to see them in action.

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