Frisky Ribbon Eel!


If you frequently dive in the Philippines, chances are you have encountered a ribbon eel, usually in blue color gently peeking and swaying from its burrow.  Normally the specie is found on sandy patches like the garden eel as they create their hole in the sand.

  1. The ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) or Bernis eel, is a species of moray eel, the only member of the genus Rhinomuraena and is normally found in Indo-Pacific ocean
  2. Ribbon eels are carnivores, preying on small fish and other marine creatures. They can attract their prey with their flared nostrils and then clamp down on them with their strong jaws and retreat into their burrows.
  3. They are usually seen with only their heads protruding from holes in reefs, amongst coral rubble on coastal reef slopes or in sand and mud of lagoons. It can stay in the same hole for months or even years.
  4. The ribbon eel is the only moray eel that is protandric, which means that they can change from a male to female (protandry) should it become necessary for survival of the species in their area.
  5. All juveniles are born male, generally in jet black with a yellow dorsal fin. The adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.
  6. As the adult male reaches full size (approximately 1 metre), it begins to turn into a female, and turns yellow. It will then mate, lay eggs, and die within about a month. Due to this short lifespan, female ribbon eels are a relatively rare sight.
  7. Females are yellow with a black anal fin with white margins on the fins. So, they are not all different species, they are just differently coloured, according to sex…. which they can change during their lifetimes.
  8. The ribbon eel grows to an overall length of approximately 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a life span of up to twenty years.

Rarely did I encounter ribbon eel in group, mostly alone or in couple which I quickly presume that couples are male and female.  In my encounters, generally all were blue with yellow dorsal fins, the latest of which was in Samal Island. I remember there was once I sighted a black one (juvenile) while diving at Red Sands in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental.

I love blue ribbon eels with their blue and yellow color, so harmless gently swaying over their burrow. Their sequential transformation in terms of color and sex held so much wonder – such an interesting life cycle!  Now, here’s hoping to encounter a swimming eel out from their hole or a female one, I guess I need to be keen for a yellow ribbon eel next time!


Mystic Moray

After more than six years in diving I have adored the depths and the amazing life in it, with increasing passion I wanted to know closely the interesting creatures that contain this mysterious world. My encounters with them were all in silence, even with restraint and patience, for them bigger species (like divers) are threatening and must be avoided. There are few of them that are generous and stood their ground even with my presence, face to face encounters are rare moments which I always treasure.

Moray Eels (Muraenidae) are interesting and just one of my favorite friends, I always stop at a distance for a quick observation – round eyes, naughty grin with razor teeth, elongated body like snake, brown or deep blue countenance – what a beauty! It could just easily glide away if feeling threatened, it is always my joy to glance at it without moving, and watch in awe how it gawk at me as if wondering what kind of fish I am! Glorious, but sadly I can’t touch my moray but just gaze in wonder.

I gathered few facts about this specie, few things that I must always remember when I dive expecting encounter with them:

1. Moray eels are found in shallow tropical ocean waters throughout the world, and live in crevices around reefs and rocks.
2. While moray eels look like snakes, they are actually fish which lack scales.
3. Morays are covered by a slimy mucus that allows them to quickly slither around reefs without getting all scratched up.
4. Morays have poor eyesight, and are known to accidentally bite the fingers off of divers who feed them (so don’t).
5. Cleaner shrimp and cleaner wrasses (tiny fish) coexist with morays and eat the parasites that live on them.
6. Moray eels are one of the few species of fish that can swim backwards.
7. Morays look menacing and scary, but they are relatively docile fish that will only attack if threatened (for example by a diver reaching into a moray’s hiding spot).
8. Morays are predators that typically hunt at night using their sense of smell; their prey include fish, crustaceans, octopus and squid.
9. Morays can cause ciguatera food poisoning if eaten by humans. The symptoms include serious gastrointestinal and neurological conditions
10. To breathe, moray eels must continually open and close their mouths to move water over their gills. Scuba divers often incorrectly interpret this behavior as threatening

It is comforting to note that morays are never aggressive but just like me and my cat, they are docile and undoubtedly lovable.  And I always considered it a compliment if a moray would stop and stare back at me as if saying – we are friends!