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Moray Eel

How Does the Giant Moray Eel Hunt with Coral Groupers?

The giant moray is an enormous eel that can grow to be 3 meters long and weigh up to 30 kilograms. It has a dark body with a long neck. Adults Moray Eels have black dots that develop a leopard-like patch behind their heads, but did you know that these eels hunt alongside a particular fish in the red sea?

Giant moray eels hunt alongside coral groupers in the Red Sea. When the grouper gets close to an eel’s hiding spot, it bobs its head quickly to indicate that it intends to hunt. The eel recognizes the signal and joins the search with it, where they work together.

Facts About the Giant Moray Eel

The Giant Moray Eel or Gymnothorax javanicus is nocturnal and carnivorous, hunting its prey within the reef.

The giant moray primarily feeds on fish and crustaceans. This moray eel was recently identified as a natural predator of lionfish or Pterois miles in its native Red Sea habitat. Although it may compete for food with reef-dwelling sharks, a mature giant moray has few natural predators. Cleaner wrasses are frequently found in its vicinity, cleaning the inside of its mouth.

Gymnothorax javanicus has very small optic tectum volumes, indicating that they hunt primarily by smell rather than vision. (Source: Thai National Parks

The Giant Moray Eel’s Habitat

The giant moray is found throughout the Indo-Pacific region, from the eastern coast of Africa, including the Red Sea, to the Pitcairn group, Hawaiian islands, and Polynesia. Japan and New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Austral Islands from north to south.

It can be found in lagoons and on the outskirts of coral reefs. During the day, it is sheltered in crevices ranging from 1 to 50 meters deep. (Source: Thai National Parks)

The Moray Eel Hunting with the Grouper

Fish from two different species were filmed cooperating in the hunt. Except for humans, it is the only known case of two unrelated creatures hunting together.

Groupers invite moray eels to hunt alongside them, Surprisingly, this could also reveal information about our own species’ evolution. 

Groupers are large fish that hunt in the open water near coral reefs during the day. Moray eels hunt at night by sliding through the reef. When they hunt together, prey has a slim chance of surviving: hide under the reef, and the eel will eat you; run for open water, and the grouper will grab you.

Groupers appear to have figured it out or at the very least learned that hunting around eels is a smart idea. 

The eel usually responded by following the grouper, which danced more slowly over the crevice where the prey was hiding. The eel moved in for the kill, but it flushed out other grouper prey.

The researchers estimate that both fish were five times more successful at catching prey when they worked together than when they worked separately.

Competition for a single prey usually prevents the evolution of this cooperation between mammals. However, because these fish swallow their prey whole, there is no fighting over the spoils, according to the researchers. (Source: New Scientist)

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