Photograph by Gaby Barathieu

Starry Moray

The starry moray eel is a large snake-like marine fish found in almost any water in the Indo-Pacific region, including the waters around Hawaii and the Red Sea.

The Preferred Habitat of Starry Moray Eels

They are quite widespread in the area mentioned above, but they prefer sheltered places such as crevices and the outer slopes of the coral reefs. They usually live at depth around 30 meters, but many prefer even deeper waters, sometimes as deep as 270 meters.

What the Starry Moray Eel Looks Like

Moray eels look like serpents, but actually they are fish, equipped with fins and breathing through gills. This moray species is often referred to as the yellow-mouthed moray for the simple reason that the lining of their mouths is of a bright yellow hue. They are quite large, usually reaching length of 150 cm. Most of them are of a brownish, dark color, with small dots of a lighter color around the head and spots growing in size towards the tail. They have two sets of very sharp and strong teeth – one of the sets is inside their yellow mouths and consists of teeth that point backwards to deprive the victim of any chance of slipping away, while the other is deeper, in their throat, to help them digest their food.

What and How Do Starry Eels Eat?

These morays are carnivorous and they have a huge appetite. They are nocturnal animals, leaving their crevices only at night in order to feed. They would eat anything that swims their way and seems suitable in size such as squids, octopuses, mollusks, cuttlefishes, crabs and small fish. They use two very special hunting methods: they either grab the prey, wrap themselves around it and start eating it only when it becomes sufficiently flattened or they tear the prey into pieces and eat one piece at a time. Starry morays, like all moray species, keep their mouth open all the time, being ready to grasp prey any given moment.

The Life Span and Reproductive Behavior of Starry Moray Eels

These large morays are quite long-lived. Their mortality rate is quite high during their larva stage – many large predators, including barracudas and numerous species of sharks, turn to them as their favorite dish. But once they reach adulthood, they live for 10-30 years. Their reproduction is not tied to a specific season – yellow-mouthed morays would mate any time of the year, whenever the conditions, such as the temperature of the water and the availability of food, are favorable. During mating, the male and the female wrap around each other and they maintain the position for several hours, period during which the male’s sperm fertilizes the female’s eggs. The female then releases the fertilized eggs into the water, sometimes as many as 10,000 eggs at a time. The eggs soon turn into larvae, which will float in the water freely with the plankton. When they are sufficiently developed, they break away and return to the sea bed to continue their lives as grown-up starry moray eels.

Blane Perun

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