Moray eels species identification guide


A fascinating snake-like fish

Muraenidae (moray eels) are a big family encompassing about 200 species. Those snake-shaped fish with impressive teeth often scare swimmers. Yet most of the time moray eels are fearful and discreet, and only bite when defending themselves.

They are often seen gaping, but there is no aggressiveness in that: opening and closing their jaws permanently just helps them breathe.

Snowflake moray swimming on a reef flat
Contrarily to most moray eel species, the snowflake moray is frequently spotted outside of its hiding place, swimming and chasing on reef flats. Here, a small individual encountered in Saint-Pierre, Réunion.

Most of the time moray eels hide inside rocky holes, making them hard to spot as their head is often the only part sticking out.

In average, adult morays reach 1,50m long. When snorkeling, you’re most likely to spot young ones (30-70 cm) since they take shelter in shallow areas, notably lagoons.

There are even spots where they are fed and almost tamed by divers, which may cause some accidents, especially with giant morays.

You’ll also find on this page species from the Ophichthidae family (or snake eels), closely related to moray eels.

Where to snorkel with moray eels?

Most moray eels have wide distribution areas. The green moray eel is the biggest and the most widespread species in the Caribbean, but it’s not the only one: the spotted moray and the chain moray can also be easily seen there.

Mediterranean moray eel
Along the European rocky coasts, it is common to spot small Mediterranean morays at shallow depths. Here, photographed in Cala Culip, Spain.

Yet the Caribbean is not the hottest place to spot a wide diversity of eels species: not less than 40 reef species have been identified in the Indian and Pacific Oceans! The most famous amongst them is the giant moray, it is also the most distributed.

The Mediterranean moray (or Roman eel) breeds in the Mediterranean Sea, but also along the Atlantic coast from the United Kingdom to Senegal.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic morays and snake eels

Indian & Pacific Oceans morays and snake eels

Eastern Pacific Ocean morays

Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic morays

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