Fight: Moray eel vs sea snake

by Matthew Cobb

In this amazing video, a brave – or foolhardy – banded sea krait has decided to nom a moray eel. It’s hard to express what a dumb idea that is, unless the animal doing the nomming is a great white shark, I guess. Morays are one of the most badass denizens of the deep, and I certainly wouldn’t have got anywhere near as close to it as this diver did, even if it was busy being eaten at the time. Its business end is still in action. The video only lasts 2:40 – make sure you watch to the end.

h/t @edyong209, who spotted this on the excellent Deep Sea News collective blog. Your one-stop shop for all things marine!



  1. Kurt
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    From what I recall, eels of any kind are actually a common prey item for banded sea kraits because they are easier to catch than free-swimming fish. They tend to hunt for fish hiding in coral.

  2. Lars
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Have to wonder how things went for the moray afterwards – sea kraits are very poisonous.

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I was surprised to see the moray out in the open, normally they stay in their hidey holes in the coral reef or sea bottom and if they do come out it’s only at night.

      Their “bad ass” reputation is not deserved in my opinion, I have encountered them on literally hundreds of dives and gotten quite close to them for photographic purposes and they have never bothered* me.

      I have some shots of a tame (i.e. fed on a regular basis by the dive guides) 8 foot or so Green moray eel wrapping itself around another diver in our group in search of food, not a practice I approve of.

      Ditto for sharks, I’ve encountered grey, hammerhead, bull nose, nurse etc. on hundreds of dives and nary an incident.

      In fact the closest I’ve felt to being threatened is when I encountered a pair of remora on the reef somehow separated from their host shark who did their best to make me their new host and it took some vigorous swimming on my part to refuse the invitation.

      I’ve never encountered a sea snake, I’ve only dove around the Caribbean and I think they only occur in the Pacific but from what I’ve read about them, they are very poisonous and I would be heading for the hills if I sighted one of them.

      * I’m reminded of a somewhat humorous first aid reference card for scuba divers, with a list of different injuries that could result from interacting with the inhabitants of the ocean and the treatment was always “stop bothering that particular animal”.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:25 am | Permalink

        You get sea snakes in the lagoon in Rarotonga, but they’re very shy, the only times I ever saw them were when they were swimming fast in the other direction. I think the only way to get bitten would be to stick your hand in a hole in the coral that was already occupied by one. I was much more worried about eels, which weren’t so shy and have a nasty reputation.

        I once met a young girl of about eight years old who said she’d been bitten by one, she was quite sick for a couple of days but (obviously) fully recovered. I have read horrific accounts of the effects of sea snake venom, though.

        My guess is different species, or the same species at different times of year maybe, can vary markedly in their venomosity (is that a word?)

  3. microraptor
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I know snakes can swallow things that are larger than their heads, but I’m still surprised that that krait would try to eat something as big as that eel.

  4. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    When the eel has an eye
    Like a big pizza pie
    That’s a moray!

    • nickswearsky
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink


      • SA Gould
        Posted April 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink


    • bill
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      🙂 x2

    • Posted April 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Nicely done! 🙂

    • Posted April 18, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink


    • Filippo
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      When you’re stuck on a reef
      And you see all those teeth
      – that’s a moray!

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted April 19, 2013 at 1:33 am | Permalink

        When its primary wish is
        To eat little fishes,
        Signore —

        Scusa mi, but you see,
        Way down under the sea,
        That’s a moray!

  5. Filipe
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Not sure about being a dumb idea, apparently it works some of the time. One of the suggested movies, after this one finishes, is exactly one of a sea snake eating a moray eel, head first.

  6. edide
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    This eel being out of it’s hole was the lucky one. One of the nearby vids shows an eel being eaten by a krait. When it popped out it’s hole, the snake grabbed it’s snout and it could not use it’s teeth to fight back.

  7. gbjames
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    The old image of a snake eating it’s own tail from Celtic designs needs an update!

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      The Ouroboros, a snake eating it’s own tail seems to be a re-occurring mythological theme.

      In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, is sometimes shown biting it’s own tail.

      As an amusing aside, some Mormons believe that Quetzalcoatl was actually Jesus Christ.

      Latter-day Saint scholar Brant Gardner, after investigating the link between Quetzalcoatl and Jesus, concluded that the association amounts to nothing more than folklore, a statement that is rich in (unintended I’m sure) irony.

      • Kelton Barnsley
        Posted April 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        Not to mention the Midgard Serpent, Jormundgand. After it was born the gods threw it into the ocean, and it eventually grew so long that it could encircle the whole earth and bite its own tail.

  8. Adam M.
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Found this on wikipedia:

    Reef-associated roving coralgroupers (Plectropomus pessuliferus) have been observed to recruit morays to join them in hunting for food. The invitation to hunt is initiated by head-shaking. The rationale for this joining of forces is the ability of morays to enter narrow crevices and flush prey from niches not accessible to groupers. This is the only known instance of interspecies cooperative hunting among fish.

    See, they’re nice guys!

    It also said that sea snakes commonly eat them.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      What’s in it for the morays?

  9. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    More bad judgement:
    Red-tailed hawk attacks an eagle on its nest

    • Chris
      Posted April 19, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      That really wasn’t very clever, was it?

  10. Posted April 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the moray’s jaws aren’t very strong. Is it also a swallower?

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen them in action, they are a hide and wait for something to swim by their nook and lunge out, grab them and swallow them whole.

      I think the teeth are designed to keep the prey from escaping and not for chewing or biting.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Moray jaws have some analogies with snakes’, but instead of contralateral feeding (alternate protraction and retraction of left and right sides of palatomaxillary and mandibular tooth rows), morays have an extra set of toothed pharyngeal jaws inside, like in Alien. The inner and outer set alternate bite and release, so the little set in the throat are pulling the prey in every time the big jaws are adjusting their grip. Good alternative in low gravity.

  11. Joe 'Blondie' Manco
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Is this the same Matthew Cobb who is the translator of a recent book I picked up – ‘Life Explained’ by Michel Morange?

  12. Fastlane
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I’ve only seen a free swimming moray once ( a Pacific Green) in a shallow lagoon off the coast of Mexico (a bit south of San Carlos).

    It was ~7 feet long, and its head was the size of a football…pretty intimidating. It saw me and my wife about the same time my wife saw it. I had spotted it already and had just tapped my wife to get her to stop. We floated, about 8 feet or so above and slightly off to the side, and just watched it for about 30 secs, before it decided we weren’t a threat and continued on its way. The initial display of teeth, though, was impressive to say the least.

    I’m surprised by this video, I would have thought as long as the snake had been attached, the moray was already paralyzed/dead from the venom.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      As seasnakes eat all kinds of eels so regularly, it’s not surprising that some of the badassest eels are highly resistant to their venoms.

  13. Thanny
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The only bad choice that snake made was in estimating size. This is the norm for encounters between sea snakes and morays:

    YouTube is littered with videos of morays making their way into snake bellies. Some head first, some tail first.

  14. Jim Thomerson
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    A while back, there was discussion on the Internet about Morays using their pharyngeal teeth in a much more agressive way than other bony fishes can. There was also something about an Atlantic green moray which people had been feeding link sausages. Guy had a problem getting the sausage out of the plastic bag, and the moray bit off either a finger or his thumb.

    I’ve seen Atlantic green morays out swimming around the reefs in Florida on several occasions. Never paid me any mind.

  15. Fastlane
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I got certified when we were stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa. There was an area around the underwater observatory that was a fantastic dive site. The area was a field of brain coral, most about 12-15 diameter, and there was an abundance of sea snakes.

    I always kept my distance, but my dive buddy liked to float near them and let them come up to his mask (they would check out their reflections in a scuba mask). Never encountered on eating a moray, though.

  16. marksolock
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

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