Moray eels are some of the ocean’s most beautiful marine creatures. They are perhaps one of the most underrated as well since divers see them so frequently. Often their gaping mouths and razor-sharp teeth give them a fearsome reputation and demeanor. But they’re rarely a threat to humans unless provoked. One of the apex predators of the reef, they feed predominantly on crustaceans, cephalopods and other fish. They can live over 30 years. Most reside in temperate and tropical seas, burrowing their way into rocks and reef. An incredible variety of morays awaits the attentive diver — here are a few of the world’s most beautiful moray eels.
A large moray eel, divers can find the Mediterranean moray can in its namesake sea and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. With a splendid coloration of black and yellow flecks, scientists think the Mediterranean moray spawns over 60,000 eggs from which the young hatch. Unfortunately, this species is exploited due to its beautiful skin, which can be made into leather. It’s also fished for food. Mediterranean morays can reach up to five feet (1.5 m) long.
Perhaps the most eccentric of all moray eels, the ribbon eel is a thin and relatively small species of moray. Inhabiting the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific, ribbon eels burrow into mud, sand and rock. All ribbon eels start life as males and some, over time, will become females. With a striking resemblance to a dragon, aquariums often target the ribbon eel although they rarely survive more than a month in captivity. They grow to 3.3 feet (1 m) in length and can live up to 20 years in the wild.
The largest of all moray species, the giant moray eel can reach up to 10 feet (3 m) in length and 66 pounds (30 kg) in weight. Juveniles are born predominantly brown in color, developing black spots and leopard marking on the back of the head as they age. Diverse in distribution, the giant moray is widespread in the Indo-Pacific.
The smallest of all morays, scientists discovered this species in 1904. It is prevalent in the Pacific Ocean. Known also as the fine-spotted moray, the Snyder’s moray can reach sizes of up to 4.3 inches (11 cm).
The snowflake moray inhabits oceans from Baja California to the Indo-Pacific. It lives between rocks and coral reefs, from shallow lagoons to depths of 30 feet (10 m). Snowflake morays feed predominantly on crustaceans, and their beautiful white-and-gold spotted skin makes them highly sought after by aquariums around the world.