Morays, family Muraenidae, are true eels (Order Anquilliformes). Muraenids lack scales, caudal, pelvic and pectoral fins; instead locomoting with long, continuous dorsal and anal fins. The specific name "mordax" is Greek for "biting". Tucked into crevices with only their heads sticking out, moray eels look menacing as they constantly open and close their mouths. But they're not making a threat, that's just how they breathe. Moray eels are almost blind and hunt by smell at night. The Zebra Moray, however, can sometimes be seen out and about during the day, though in the wild it usually begins hunting around twilight.
Moray eels belong to a family of fish which differs from the common eels by their lack of side fins, their well-developed teeth, and their lack of scales. Common eels have embedded scales, but these are not readily noticeable. Morays occur in tropical and subtropical seas of the world. In the United States. they are usually found in quantity only in Florida waters, although they have been seen as far north as North Carolina and even New Jersey.
Morays are occasionally caught on hook and line by fishermen, sometimes are captured by trawlers that drag nets over the bottom. People in some parts of the world value the moray as food. Some Pacific morays measure as long as 10 feet and are considered dangerous to man when aggressions are aroused, generally by divers' actions. Several records exist of attacks on humans by wounded morays. More than 200 species of moray eels dwell in tropical waters worldwide. Reclusive and secretive, moray eels are most frequently observed in coral reefs, with their heads poking out of holes in rocks or coral structures. Serving as top predators in coral reefs, they may have evolved their unique feeding method to enable them to hunt large prey in confined spaces, where they cannot expand their heads to create suction.
The slender, snake-like moray eel--which may reach up to about nine feet in length--captures and consumes its prey (usually large fish, octopuses and squid) with a unique strategy that involves using two sets of jaws. Moray eels have two sets of jaws: 1) the oral jaws that capture prey; and 2) the pharyngeal jaws (similar to the jaws of the monster in the movie, "Alien") that advance into the mouth and move prey from the oral jaws to the esophagus for swallowing. the moray eel starts feeding by seizing its prey in the jaws of its oral cavity. This set of jaws is armed with sharp, piercing teeth that curve backwards, pointing towards the eel's throat. So structured, these teeth are specially designed to help prevent prey from backing out of the eel's mouth, much like spike-strips in parking lots help prevent cars from backing out of entrance ramps. Once prey is secured in the eel's oral jaws, a second set of toothy jaws (known as the pharyngeal jaws) located behind the eel's skull lunges forward, advancing along almost the full length of its skull, to snatch and deliver the prey to the eel's esophagus for swallowing.
Moray eels live in confined spaces in coral reefs, where it would be impossible to use the type of suction used by most bony fish to capture and move prey into the throat. Scientists believe that the moray eel's inner set of jaws (their pharyngeal jaws), which move food from their oral jaws to their esophagus, represent an adaptation to their cramped environment.
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