HERE BE DRAGONS
If you want a dramatic presence in your tank, this grinning, sharp-toothed eel is the business.
Are you up for a challenge? The grinning, sharp-toothed, Dragon moray will make a dramatic presence in your tank.
WITH THEIR mouth agape, moray eels can give off an unnerving air of menace. The constant opening and closing motion reveals an impressive array of teeth, and this is particularly applicable to one aquarium species, the Dragon moray, Enchelycore pardalis. The distinctive curved jawline, a trait of the Enchelycore genus, prevents them from fully closing their mouths, leaving them with a fixed toothy grin. Disturb one, the jaws spread and that smile switches to a roar. Rows of razorsharp teeth glint in the light as the eel rocks from side to side, displaying a clear warning – mess with me at your peril.
In reality though, this apparent threat is usually directed towards tankmates. The open gape has no sinister meaning; rather the moray is simply forcing water over its gills to breathe using powerful muscles located in its gill cavity.
When it comes to dentition, morays can be divided into two groups. Piscivores like the Dragon moray boast enlarged fangs, perfect for snatching fish from the water column, while others like the Snowflake moray, Echidna nebulosa, possess blunt, molar-like teeth ideally suited to crushing the shells of crustaceans. What makes a moray bite worse than most are the various toxins contained within the saliva and slime coat. Analysis of a Yellowmouth moray, Gymnothorax nudivomer, revealed a cocktail of crinotoxins that lead to increased pain and bleeding, while Vibrio and Pseudomonas bacteria have also been detected in captive eels.
Morays have poor eyesight, instead relying of their acute sense of smell to help them locate prey, and their tubular nostrils, resembling horn-like protrusions, enhance their mythical appeal. Remember, the phrase ‘never bite the hand that feeds’ doesn’t apply here, with mealtimes stimulating heightened aggressive behaviours that can blur the line between fingers and food. Conversely, it’s not unusual for new specimens to go on hunger strike for weeks or even months, so perseverance when feeding is key.
The Dragon’s serpentine body enables it to wriggle among rockwork with ease, while highly developed dorsal and anal fins undulate to propel the eel when swimming in the open. Morays are most often encountered with just their heads exposed from their rocky homes, and with this being the only region to have lateral line pores, they can detect prey while hidden from view. Their scale-free bodies pack a punch, so rockwork should be fixed in place with putty to prevent inadvertent demolition jobs.
This ability to move through
intricate spaces also makes them aquarium escape artists, so ensure you fit your tank with a secure lid.
Locating a Dragon for the aquarium isn’t easy, and even if you do find one, it’s likely to command big bucks. Dressed in a technicolour coat of oranges, whites, browns and blacks, colouration heavily influences the price tag, with the most eclectic purported to be collected from the northern Japanese region of their Indo-pacific home range.
If you’re thinking of recouping your outlay through a breeding project, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Juvenile morays have a transparent planktonic stage, known as leptocephalus, in which they drift in the ocean currents, undetected by predators, before dropping back onto the reef to undergo metamorphosis.
If you’re in the market for a moray and have the large, mature system to match its needs, you’d be hard pushed to find a more dramatic candidate than the Dragon.
CHRIS SERGEANT Chris works in conservation research and regularly writes for aquarium publications.