No, they’re not miniature Krakens. And, no, they’re not limbless ectotherms that just so happen to be entirely aquatic—although those do exist. They are, however, fascinating marine fauna that Hollywood would have a hard time outdoing. Where do you think the idea for the extraterrestrial in “Alien” to have a secondary, projectile jaw came from, after all?
A Multitude of Examples
While most sea goers associate moray eels by only their larger kin, the Muraenidae family consists of nearly two-hundred species, some animals growing no longer than a lead pencil. And, again, the notion that all moray eels only exist in the saline reefs of the temperate coastal waters is also a farce; some of those described smaller species live out their days in the brackish waters of costal-hugging estuaries and mangroves.
Long and Lean, Short and Stout
The not-so-cleverly named slender giant moray is native to the West Pacific, where it may grow to lengths of up to thirteen-feet long in its brackish habitats. Aside from its preferred habitat and size, very little is known about this eel in both its captive and wild habits.
On the other hand, the more stout and robust giant moray is much better understood. And, as the name might suggest, the giant moray isn’t an animal that’s easy to accidentally look-over. What the giant moray lacks in feet, it more than makes up for in pounds—sixty-six of those, to be exact. Due to their inherit bulk, these plus-sized eels actively hunt their reef-going prey in the still of night rather than playing games of hide-‘n’-seek in the bright of day.
The B-movie Inspiring Jaw
Aside from all the other eerie factoids enveloping the moray family, the anatomical asset that sticks-out like a proverbial sore thumb is their propensity to hunt using their “second jaw” structure. Their pharyngeal jaws (secondary jaws located at the back of the animal’s throat) are used by moray eels to subdue caught prey. Because of their evolved head structure, moray’s are incapable of consuming prey via buccal functions (fancy bio-jargon for creating the low-pressure differential that sucks-in prey fish), they’re likely to have developed this adaptation solely to fill that evolutionary void—and they’re the only animal known by science to do so.