Moray eels (Family Muraenidae) make up one of the largest families of bony fishes in Hawai’i, with more species (over 40) than any other fish family than perhaps the wrasses (Family Labridae). Their abundance cannot be truly appreciated because most species are small and remain well hidden within the reef. Research has show that the smaller eel species represent a large percentage of the fish population on Hawaiian reefs.

Common NameScientific NameRangeDescription
Stout Moray Gymnothorax eurostusMoray Eel, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer) Indio Pacific The stout moray eel is one of the most common inshore eels around the Hawaiian Islands, though it is fairly secretive, hiding in crevices in the reef (and not seen very often).The stout moray eel has two color forms.  In the dark form, the eel is mostly brown (darker toward the back) and covered with many light colored (pale) markings.In the light form, the stout moray eel is mostly white with many brown markings.  The stout moray feeds on fish and crustaceans.
Undulated MorayGymnothorax undulatusUndulated Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus, moray eel photos, Maui, Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Undulated Moray, Gymnothorax undulatus, moray eel photos, Maui, Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Widespread in the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Americas; in the eastern Pacific it occurs from Costa Rica to Colombia, and the Revillagigedos Islands.This moray is common on Hawaiian reefs, and can be seen withdrawn in crevices by day or hunting in the open at night.The undulated moray, or Puhi Laumilo , has a distinctive pattern of light undulating lines and speckles on a dark green background, with a snout that is often yellow. It can reach between 3-5  feet in length.  It is a common species on reef flats among rocks, rubble, or debris and it also occurs in lagoons and seaward reefs, commonly inhabiting caves. It is reported to be an aggressive species and prone to bite.Dorsal and anal fins covered with skin, but clearly evident; dorsal fin origin before gill opening; rear nostril not tubular, at most a raised rim; teeth pointed and well developed; a single row of long fang-like canines at front between top jaws and the usual canines anteriorly in jaws; young with a few canines in middle row of upper jaw.Head variable, often yellowish, but also brown, grey or whitish; young brown with diffuse yellowish bars on body forming “chain-link” pattern; adults irregularly mottled.
Whitemouth MorayGymnothorax meleagrisWhitemouth Moray, Gymnothorax meleagris, moray eel photos, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Indo-Pacific areaThe Whitemouth Moray is brown to yellow-brown with numerous dark-edged white spots on the head and body. The inside of the mouth and the tip of the tail are white. A black blotch surrounds the gill opening. There are enlarged canine teeth at the front of the upper jaw.  The whitemouth moray is found in coral-rich areas of lagoons and seaward reefs. It prefers very shallow depth and juveniles are often in intertidal zones. It is often seen hunting during low tide among partly exposed reefs. It feeds mainly on fishes and crustaceans, by day and probably also at night. Ciguatera poisoning has been reported.Coloration is dark skin with small white spots, contrasting with white inside the mouth.It can be found living on coral reefs from depths of 1 to 36 metres and it is known to primarily feed on fishes and crustaceans. The Whitemouth Moray grows to a maximum length of 1.2 metres.
Yellow Margin EelGymnothorax flavimarginatusYellow Margin Moray, Gymnothorax flavimarginatus, Moray eel, photos underwater, snowflake eeel, moray eel photos, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Yellow Margin Moray eels range from the Red Sea and South Africa east all the way through the indian and Pacific Oceans to Costa Rica and Panama and the Galapagos Islands.The most common of the large, fish-eating moray eels in Hawai’i is the yellowmargin moray (Gymnothorax flavimarginatus), which can be recognized by its size and the yellow border around its tail. It appears especially attracted to struggling or wounded fish, and may seek out these individuals when they have sought shelter in reef crevices. This heavy-bodied eel, known in Hawaiian as pühi-paka (fierce eel), probably represents the greatest threat to humans among the Hawaiian morays. It is known to leave the shelter of the reef, even during the day to investigate fish caught by spearfishermen.
Zebra MorayBymnomuraena zebraZebra Moray, Bymnomuraena zebra, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Found in the Hawaiian Islands southward to Polynesia, westward across the tropical Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa. Also occurs off Panama, the Galapagos Islands, and Mexico.The strikingly marked zebra moray is not common, but is easily recognized: it has a blunt snout and is a deep chocolate brown with narrow light yellow bars. This species may reach sizes up to 5 feet (1.5 m), though most specimens are smaller. An inhabitant of crevices and ledges of seaweed reefs from the surge zone to depths of at least 130 feet (39 m), it is also seen on reef flats where is may swim in the open. This species is found throughout the Indo-Pacific, from East Africa to the tropical Americas. Well-adapted for its diet of armored invertebrates, the zebra moray’s molar-like teeth nearly cover the jaws and palate like a cobblestone pavement. Common dietary items include pebble crabs and other crustaceans, clams, even sea urchins.

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