Moray eels' most impressive teeth are ones you don't see

Moray eels are ferocious looking beasts that grow to more than 2.5m (8 feet) in length. With gaping jaws and formidable looking teeth, they frighten almost as many people each year as sharks do. But, like sharks, they are very misunderstood and their unearned reputation as savage beasts is actually more dangerous than the eels themselves are. Green moray eels spend their days in coral crevices or caves, only occasionally venturing out in daylight. These animals can be found hunting at night more often as they explore the reef looking for fish, octopus, and squid. They have poor eyesight but extremely keen smell and they can slither in and out of crevices in search of fish that are sleeping or hiding. Part of the reason that these creatures are seen as threatening is their method of breathing. They open their mouths wide to gulp water that will be passed over their gills to provide oxygen. But this displays a formidable set of teeth and leaves people with the impression that the eel is preparing to attack. This misunderstanding has led to great fear of moray eels and they have even been the subject of horror fiction, adding even more to the negative and undeserved reputation as being dangerous. But there is a little known fact about these animals that also involves their teeth and jaws. The moray eel is the only animal known animal with pharyngeal jaws. This is a second set of jaws and teeth in the throat that is launched forward when the eel is seizing prey. This helps the eel capture food and drag it into its throat to be swallowed. As if this were not enough, morays also have teeth in the roof of their mouths. The large upper teeth are used to restrain prey, but they fold back when the eel swallows, preventing breakage. Moray eels are a spectacular sight for scuba divers, especially when seen in the open. Understanding that they will pose no threat to a person acting respectfully, a seasoned diver has no fear of them.

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