The Ribbon Eel (a member of the Muraenidae family) is also known as the leaf-nosed moray eel or bernis eel. It is also the only member of the genus Rhinomuraena because it is so unique. They are truly fascinating; you won’t want to miss them whilst diving in Thailand.
Bearing a striking resemblance to a mythical Chinese dragon or a dancing ribbon, the Ribbon Eel is very elegant as it moves through the water. It has a long thin body and is vividly coloured, making it a spectacular sight.
Another prominent feature is their expanded anterior nostrils, which flare out from the tip of their nose.
Ribbon Eels are drawn to lagoons and coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific. They are shy sea creatures, which prefer to burrow under the sand or hide in coral crevices, making it difficult to spot. They make themselves a burrow in which to live and hide.
Although it seems unlikely considering how beautiful this creature is, the Ribbon Eel is a carnivore, primarily eating small fish, cephalopods, mollusks and crustaceans. They hide in holes and surprise their prey, catching them in their strong jaws before retreating into their burrows.
Although they have very poor eyesight, they have an excellent sense of smell, which is their chief hunting tool.
The Ribbon Eels method of reproduction is very peculiar. Once an adult male reaches full size (approximately 1m), it will turn into a female (protandric hermaphroditism). The new female Ribbon Eel will then mate and lay eggs, before dying within a month. If you see a female Ribbon Eel, you are very lucky as they are extremely rare.
It was once thought that there were three types of Ribbon Eel, due to the varying colourings at each stage of their life cycle, however, recent findings identified only one type of eel.
A Ribbon Eel will always begin life as a male then change sex when they reach maturity and need to reproduce. This extraordinary eel will also change colour when it changes sex. The males are mostly blue with a stripe of yellow along their back and on their dorsal fin, whereas females are completely yellow. As juveniles, they are completely black.
They are incredibly resilient and can live up to 20 years.
Ribbon Eel factoids
- These eels are very rarely found in public aquariums. They don’t live longer than a month in captivity because they are easily stressed.
- Ribbon eels are rarely seen free swimming, they are usually only seen with their heads protruding from holes in reefs or sand.
- Some eels can live in the same hole for months or even years.
- King Henry of England is reported to have died after eating a moray eel, another member of the Muraenidae family.
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