HERE BE DRAG­ONS

If you want a dra­matic pres­ence in your tank, this grin­ning, sharp-toothed eel is the busi­ness.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

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.

Den­tal dif­fer­ences

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.

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