Moray Eel


Scientific Classification

Common Name
moray, moray eel, painted eel
Genus Species
Gymnothorax spp.

Fast Facts

These slender, predatory bony fishes come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Sometimes they are called painted eels because of the bright coloration of certain species. The skin of morays is thick and lacks scales, and most species have low dorsal (top) fins and lack pectoral and pelvic fins.
From 15 cm (6 in.) to 4.5 m (15 ft)
Fishes, octopuses, and crustaceans
Oviparous (egg laying)
Life Span
Long lived – some species probably live to 30 years or more
Found in all tropical seas and some temperate oceans
GLOBAL No data
IUCN: Not listed
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. Green moray eels (Gymnothorax funebris) are actually blue, but a slimy yellow coating on their bodies makes them appear green. The slime protects these common tropical eels as they wiggle through jagged caves and rocky crevices. They come out at night to feed, but prefer small spaces and hiding places in rocks and caves during the day. 
  2. A moray eel appears dangerous because it continually exposes its mouth and teeth. This action, however, is not a hostile gesture, but simply the way an eel breathes. Morays have large mouths and powerful jaws with a vice-like grip. Most species have sharp, thin teeth that protrude from the upper and lower jaws, and sometimes from the roof of the mouth. The teeth point backwards to prevent slippery prey from escaping. 
  3. Because most moray eels have low dorsal (top) fins and lack pectoral and pelvic fins, they do not have a great amount of lateral stability. It is not uncommon to see moray eels lying or drifting on their sides or even upside down.
  4. Moray eels have a nasty reputation among divers exploring reef areas. Generally, they are not known to be aggressive to divers unless disturbed or frightened. A mistake that some divers make is to use rocky areas as a hand-hold, which may turn out to be home to several moray eels. Such an action may frighten a moray eel to lash out and bite in self-defense. Like many other "dangerous" sea creatures, they usually do not bite unless first provoked.
  5. For more information about bony fishes, explore the Bony Fishes InfoBook. 

Ecology and Conservation

No data


Burgess, W. and H.R. Axelrod. Pacific Marine Fishes. Book 1. Neptune City, NJ. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Ltd. 1971.

Eschmeyer, W.N., Herald, E.S. and H. Hammann. Peterson Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes. New York. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1983.