Overview

Comprehensive Description

Biology

Found in holes and crevices, sometimes among weed. Possibly a protogynous hermaphrodite (Ref. 32169).
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Commonly called the whitespot moray or the Brazilian Dragon moray, this beautiful eel lives in the Atlantic and makes its home in holes and rock crevices and is often found in marine weed beds. As few specimens have been collected and even fewer field studies have taken place, much of the biology and ecology of M. pavonina is drawn from chance encounters and historical scientific documents. Furthermore, many scientists infer habits and behavior from other moray species that fill a similar ecological function. M. pavonina is voracious predator, consuming everything from fish to spiny lobsters. M. pavonina is rare in the pet trade, although few collectors have obtained them.



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M. pavonina is a mid-level predator that preys on fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. It presumably falls prey to larger fish and sharks, although little is known about predation on M. pavonina. Belonging to the family Muraenidae, Muraena pavonina is a tropical, midsized moray. Found mostly in the western and Southwestern Atlantic, northeastern Brazil and the mid-Atlantic ridge, M. pavonina inhabits the demersal zone, up to depths of 60 m(1).

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Distribution

Western Atlantic: northeastern Brazil and the mid-Atlantic ridge. Eastern Atlantic: Ascension Island.
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Western, Eastern, and Central tropical Atlantic reefs(9), St. Paul’s Rocks(2,4,9-10), Ascension Islands(3)

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Southwestern Atlantic and eastern Atlantic.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Long, snake-like body is thin and high; jaws are narrow. Lacks pelvic and pectoral fins. Long, caudal fin (i.e. tail fin), which is continuous from the back to the belly, propels the animal through the water by lateral undulation (1). Nostrils lie above the eye and lips are long and tubular. Gill-opening is small and located behind the eye. Teeth are acute and angled backwards. Two rows of teeth are present. The inner row is composed of larger teeth and lines only the front portion of the jaw. The exterior row contains relatively small teeth that extend around the entirety of the jaw. Richardson also notes the presence of two elongate teeth near the very front of the upper jaw, bounded by a single row of short, posterior teeth (4). Additionally, Richardson observed a row of teeth extending from the symphysis of the maxilla straight to the vomer.

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Size

Maximum size: 512 mm TL
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Max. size

51.2 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 13121))
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M. pavonina attains a maximum length of 51.2 cm (2).

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Diagnostic Description

Long, tubular lips, nostrils located supraorbitally (above the eyes). Two rows of teeth with the inner row wrapping around the entire mandible. Single column of palatine teeth end at the vomer. Powerful and mobile pharyngeal jaws. Stocky, medium-sized body. Head is about 1/10th the total length. White spots occur in great frequency in the middle of the body but decrease in size near the anterior of the animal. Spots decrease in frequency but increase in size at the posterior of the animal. Fleshy "horns" above eye. Two short tubes are present at the extremity of both the upper and lower jaw. Long, snake-like body without pectoral or pevlic fins. Dorsal and anal fins have fused to become a continuous fin which runs from the dorsum to the ventrum of the animal. Brilliantly colored with white or cream spots on a brown or black background. Snout coloration ranges from dark purple or brown to white or cream. Eyes are set close to the nostrils, facing forward. Fin rays are conspicuous in the tail.

Coloration: Mostly pitch-black with oval white spots with brown borders. Spots are more numerous and smaller at the front portion of the body; spots are far apart and less numerous near the posterior. Scales are rhomboid and small (4).

More specific measurements and characteristics are not available as this species has not yet been studied in depth. However aquarists are able to identify M. pavonina by coloration and pattern.

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Look Alikes

The ranges of three other species of moray eel, Muraena melanotis, Gymnothorax miliaris and Gymnothorax funebris over lap with that of M. pavonina and are often confused with the whitespot moray. Key differences lie in size, pattern, spot number, and head coloration.

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Ecology

Habitat

Environment

demersal; marine; depth range 2 - 60 m (Ref. 58047)
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M. pavonina inhabits tropical reefs and prefers the demersal zone (2 – 60 meters deep)(3). It lives in crevices and holes on the bottom the reef but ventures out of the safety of underwater burrows to hunt. The whitespot moray has been observed laying out amongst the weeds, in a fashion similar to sunbathing (6).

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Depth: 0 - 50m.
Recorded at 50 meters.

Habitat: demersal. Found in holes and crevices, sometimes among weed.
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Migration

None known.

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Dispersal

As an adult, M. pavonina is localized and does not migrate or travel long distances. It prefers to remain close to the reef where it can find food and shelter. However, morays, as a family, do spread long distances by drifting with the tides as larvae. Therefore, although no specific study has been conducted on dispersal mechanisms in M. pavonina, it is inferred from studies of other species that the larvae of M. pavonina experience tidal dispersal.

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Trophic Strategy

M. pavonina is a mid-level consumer that preys on fish, octopi, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp, crabs, carrion, and as a larvae, feeds on plankton and small shrimp. Although there has been record of cannibalism in other Muraena species, it has not been documented in M. pavonina. M. pavonina is an active forager and efficient hunter, searching burrows and cracks for food.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Like other morays, M. pavonina is primarily an active predator, although it has been observed to lie in ambush from crevices. Termed an “active forager” by scientists, M. pavonina relies on its acute sense of smell and vision, as well as its camouflage and speed to hunt prey. Once within striking range, M. pavonina uses its long, re-curve teeth to grasp the prey item. Then it uses its extremely mobile pharyngeal jaws, a second set of jaws that reside in the throat, to pull the prey item down into its esophagus(7). The family Muraenidae, to which M. pavonina belongs, exhibits a wide range of dentition, or teeth. Teeth range from uni- to multi-serial (i.e. arranged in a single or multiple rows), from round and molar-like to tall and conical, from smooth to serrated (1). Some scientists have reported cooperative hunting between groupers (Plectropomus pessuliferus) and the giant moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) in which both species jointly search for prey items(8). Whether interspecific, or between species, hunting occurs between M. pavonina and other species is unknown. M. pavonina has been reported to be nocturnal, but has been observed actively foraging during the day(9). M. pavonina has been observed to swim close to the sea floor and to snake amongst the corals looking for food. Additionally, M. pavonina has been observed to lie, fully exposed, on the coral bed(6). 

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Life Cycle

Protogyny unconfirmed (Ref. 84746).
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M. pavonina exhibits external fertilization. The male and female will intertwine themselves to ensure successful fertilizations. Eggs then are carried off by the current and the morays hatch as a leptocephalus larvae. The pelagic leptocephalus then drifts for about a year. During this time, the larva begins to develop into a juvenile eel. Then juvenile then settles on the reef bed and grows to an adult.

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Life Expectancy

Studies have not yet determined the life expectancy of M. pavonina. However, aquarists have noted that M. pavonina attains similar ages as other species of Muraena and Gymnothorax. Therefore, it is inferred that the whitespot moray lives for about 17 to 20 years(5).

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Reproduction

As a Elopomorph, or true eel, all species of the genus Muraena hatch from eggs and grow into leptocephalus larvae1,5, which have a small head and a flattened body (very much like a leaf). M. pavonina exhibits external fertilization and eggs hatch into the leaf-like larvae that float in the current. As the animal matures, it morphs from a larva to a thick-bodied eel. Coloration and pattern begin to develop within a year of birth. Many scientists consider M. pavonina to be protogynous (i.e. having the ability to change from a female to a male). Current literature holds that M. pavonina begins as an anatomical female, but develop testes as the animal gets older (the exact cause is not well understood). Testes in Muraena form as two bands that extend from the cloacae to the stomach. In protogynous fishes, like M. pavonina, testicular tissue forms between the newly developed eggs on the folds of the ovary. The build up of sperm, called a sperm cyst, arrests the development of the particular egg it rests upon (6). Note that the breeding behavior of M. pavonina has not been well studied in the wild. Thus the significance and role of protogyny in reproduction is not understood. One report holds that two M pavonina were entwined around each other in a non-aggressive manner. Thus, it was inferred that M. pavonina displays an elaborate courtship ritual (5). Studies on captive specimens have not yet been attempted as captive whitespot morays remain rare. However, inferences about moray breeding biology can be made by comparison to its sister genus, Gymnothorax.

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Growth

M. pavonina begins life as a leptocephalus, a leaf-shaped larva which is a few to 30 mm in length. As the animal grows, it becomes more eel like in body shape and adopts more actice swimming motions, no longer floating a long with the current. After a year, the leptocephalus has metamorphosed into a juvenile moray. The juvenile, about 10 to 20 cm in length, then begins its life as an adult, foraging for food and looking for mates in the reef. As a 51 cm adult, the moray is fully grown, although it may grow a few millimeters more.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

M. pavonina is not endangered nor a species of concern(9). It is not listed by the IUCN.

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M. pavonina populations seem to be healthy. However as few field experiments have been conducted on the species, data is not readily available.

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Threats

Not Evaluated
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As M. pavonina is uncommon and not actively sought out, M. pavonina faces no imminent threat or danger. Although the animal is high on the tourists’ list of "must see sea creatures," whitespot morays are rarely encountered. Although local fisherman catch and eat the occasional M. pavonina and few specimens are caught for the pet trade, these small perturbations pose no threat to the population as a whole. However, as the whitespot moray depends heavily on the reef environment for food, shelter, mates, etc. global climate change and the increase of "dead zones" in which all coral dies, may impact popultion health in the future.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Although M. pavonina is sometimes consumed by humans, cases of ciguatera, food poisoning by fish, has not been documented. However other species of moray eel have been known to cause sickness (3). Thus, M. pavonina, and morays as a whole, are not major food fish. However, recent research has shown that morays excrete venom along their mandibluar teeth and in their skin. Thus, moray venom may have pharmacological properties that have yet to be explored.

M. pavonina has also been found in fish collections of private aquarists. However, specimens are few and far between.

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Wikipedia

Muraena pavonina

Muraena pavonina is a moray eel found in the western and eastern Atlantic ocean.[1] It is commonly known as the Whitespot moray.[2]

References

  1. ^ Muraena pavonina at www.fishbase.org.
  2. ^ Common names for Muraena pavonina at www.fishbase.org.
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