California Moray Eel

California Moray Eel Gymnothorax mordax

Type of Animal:
Moray Eel

Adults in Reefs, pilings, & reef crevices/cracks, juveniles in tide pools, young drift in currents until 8-12 months old when they finally settle on bottom

E Pacific from Santa Barbara area, CA to Santa Maria Bay in Baja California Sur

Long slim snakelike fish, ranges from brownish to greenish (often w/ mottling), no pelvic fins/pectoral fins/gill covers, small eyes, prominent jaws, tapered tail, dorsal fin runs length of body

Fish (including each other), octopuses, lobsters, shrimp, squid, cuttlefish, crabs, sea urchins

Status in Wild:

Studies on populations & patterns


Additional Info:

Young: Leptocephalus
Group: Solitary
15 lbs

1-1.5 months 

Life Span:
22-35 years

Body Length:
3-5 ft

Tail Length:
1.47 ft

Main predators of adults are groupers & barracuda. Sea snakes & many larger fish take young/juveniles. Larger eels sometimes prey on smaller eels.
Active at night (nocturnal).
They’re ambush predators.
Larvae stay in leptocephalus stage for around 8-12 months.
Many eel crevices also inhabited by red rock shrimp, which rid eel of dead skin/parasites. Relationship often one-sided since eels sometimes prey on these shrimp as well.
They have very poor eyesight, relying mostly on motion/smell.
Consume prey by clamping down w/ both sets of sharp teeth.
Swim in undulating fashion to propel themselves forward.
While common off California coast, they only breed in Baja California due to California water being too cold. Ocean currents from Baja bring leptocephali into S California where they grow up. They’re territorial & adults found in California most likely non-reproductive.

Fun Fact(s):
Not often eaten due to risk of ciguatera poisoning.
These fish are rather intelligent & quite curious.
Get name originally from Greek word Muraina meaning eel, later becoming Latin word murena, Portuguese word moreia, & English word moray.
While scary-looking, these creatures quite docile unless provoked. However, if provoked, they can give nasty bite w/ 2 sets of razor-sharp teeth. These bites often cause nasty infections due to bacteria. Another reason for bites may stem from poor eyesight, not being able to tell what’s fingers & what’s food.
They’re extremely difficult to breed in captivity.
These fish have toxins on slime coats of skin as well as in mucus.
Since they have tiny gills, they have to constantly open/close mouth, giving them scary appearance.

12 thoughts on “California Moray Eel

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