I’m taking an ecology of California class at City College. The instructor had us visit the California Academy of Sciences and write something about a California animal we saw there. I picked a marine animal. Here is my write-up (minus text formatting which failed cut-and-paste). My friend took a pictures on his iPhone and I’ll add them when he sends them to me.
California Moray Eel, Gymnothorax mordax, live mostly in warm water areas off the coast of California, south of Point Conception. G. mordax is distinguished from other California eels by the absence of pectoral fins.
“Gymnothorax” means bare, or naked, chest. G. mordax belongs in the Muraenidae, “one of the most abundant and widespread of all eel families”. The Muraenidae contains 15 genera, and the genus Gymnothorax contains an estimated 120 species worldwide.
Without pectoral fins, G. mordax moves easily through its rocky reef habitat. All morays are carnivorous and G. mordax feeds at night on small reef fishes, octopuses, shrimps crabs, lobsters and sea urchins, hunting with an uncommonly well-developed sense of smell.
G. mordax shares a symbiotic relationship with the red rock shrimp Lysmata californica who often live in the moray’s crevice and clean it of dead skin and parasites. In exchange, the eel protects the shrimp from predators. In fact, “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 moray’s mouth is constantly opening and closing to move oxygenated water over its gill openings.
Like many aquatic animals, G. mordax reproduces by external fertilization. The female lays eggs which hatch into a larva called a leptocephalus. Much remains unknown about G. mordax’s early stages of life. One theory holds that fertilization occurs in the warmer waters off Baja California and water currents bring the juveniles north to California.
G. mordax can grow to five feet long and live to be 30 years old. The specimen on view at California Academy of Sciences appeared to at least four feet long.
Morays seldom leave their crevices. However, when provoked G. mordax makes a formidable opponent with numerous, razor-sharp canine-type teeth that may inflict serious lacerations. California Morays are not poisonous and may be eaten.