The dragon moray eel has long nasal tubes over its eyes giving the appearance of horns. The jaws are full of sharp needle-like teeth with curved jaws that cannot completely close. Vividly marked with streaks and spots, this unusual and secretive creature feeds primarily on fish and octopus, and like most eels, hunting after dark when its brown markings become less colorful and noticeable providing this predator with an advantage.
This specie of eel is rarely seen in the main Hawaiian Islands and is more common in the northwestern chain. Alternate Hawaiian names are puhi ‘o‘a and puhi ao. The species name translates to “leopard”. They grow to 3 feet in length and are seen as deep as 80 feet.
Within the moray family, males and females are usually separate, according to research. However, some species change sex or are hermaphroditic. Pairs have been witnessed leaving their dens and approaching each other, mouths wide agape, flared dorsal fins and entwining. While still wrapped around each other they may either fall back, or hover over the reef for awhile before pressing abdomens together, releasing gametes and separating. Other species have been observed spawning in groups, some while at the surface.
Morays have no scales or paired fins to hamper them in tight spaces. They have two pairs of nostrils, the first set being tubes at the snout tip. In some eels the second pair is either in tubes or at openings above or behind the eyes. To respire, their necks may swell and rhythmically pulse while holding their mouths open and displaying impressive teeth. Their bodies are muscular and thick culminating in a ribbon-like tail. Morays have a long lasting larval stage, which explains why they are well represented in Hawai‘i, with 42 species, making them more numerous than any other Indo-Pacific location. This could be possibly due to the lack of native shallow water groupers and snappers, both of which are known to compete with them.
Worldwide there are 200 known species.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, the presence of any specific animal cannot be guaranteed.