A Snowflake Moray Eel, Echinda nebulosa, named Kani leaves the water to grab a piece of squid in a University of California, Santa Cruz, laboratory. Image: Rita S. Metha/UC Santa Cruz, 2021.

The latest unlikely internet video sensation is a Snowflake Moray Eel that does not hesitate to emerge from its watery habitat to seek prey on a terrestrial perch.

Having been featured in The New York Times and elsewhere this week in the global media, the eel represents serious research on moray feeding habits, as reported in a new paper The Journal of Experimental Biology by Rita S. Mehta and Kyle Donohoe.


In their abstract, the authors say: “Some species of durophagous moray eels (Muraenidae) have been documented emerging from the marine environment to capture intertidal crabs but how they consume prey out of water is unknown. Here, we trained snowflake morays, Echidna nebulosa, to undulate out of the aquatic environment to feed on land. On land, snowflake morays remove prey from the substrate by biting and swallow prey using pharyngeal jaw enabled transport. Although snowflake morays exhibit smaller jaw rotation angles on land when apprehending their prey, transport kinematics involving dorsoventral flexion of the head to protract the pharyngeal jaws and overall feeding times did not differ between terrestrial and aquatic treatments. We suggest that their elongate body plan, ability to rotate their heads in the dorsoventral and lateral directions, and extreme pharyngeal movements all contribute to the ability of durophagous morays to feed in the terrestrial environment.”

Read More & References:
Snowflake morays, Echidna nebulosa, exhibit similar feeding kinematics in terrestrial and aquatic treatment

J Exp Biol (2021) 224 (11): jeb234047.


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