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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- All juveniles are born male, generally in jet black with a yellow dorsal fin. The adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!