CALIFORNIA MORAY
Gymnothorax mordax

Habitat: Typically inhabit rocky reefs, found in caves and crevices.

Average adult size: Adults can grow to 5 feet in length.

Natural history: The only eel in California without pectoral fins, this body shape allows the moray to move easily forward or backward in the rocky reef's cracks and crevices. A nocturnal predator on small reef fishes, octopuses, shrimps and crabs, morays have a well-developed sense of smell to hunt for their prey. Morays may look mean and menacing when they open and close their mouths to pump oxygen over their gills, but they are actually very timid, retreating into their holes at the first sign of a diver. Morays exhibit the classic symbiosis, called mutualism. The moray's crevice is often lined with red rock shrimp (Lysmata californica), which rid the moray of dead skin and parasites, keeping the moray looking sharp. The shrimp get to eat and in turn they are rewarded for their services by being protected from predators. The moray will not eat the shrimp, even while the shrimp ventures all the way inside the moray's mouth, cleaning away old bits of food. The shrimp are like living dental floss. A moray eel can live to be 30 years old.

Range: from Magdalena Bay, Baja, California, north to Point Conception.


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