Dragon moray eels (Echelycore pardalis), also known as leopard moray eel, tiger moray eel, or Japanese dragon eel, are on one of the more visually striking, beautiful moray eels. Their bodies are an orange-brown color, covered with spots and streaks of black and white, which continues right into their mouths as well. They have long curved jaws filled with fang-like canine teeth. Dragon morays look especially vicious because their jaws don’t close completely, leaving their teeth always exposed. Along with a set of nostrils at the end of their upper jaw, dragon morays also have a set of tubular nostrils just in front of the eyes that look like horns, which is where their name “dragon” came from. These extra nostrils are believed to be used for pinpointing the location of prey using their odor while swimming over a reef. They are rarely seen in the wild, as they are nocturnal creatures who do most of their hunting at night.
Dragon moray eels are native to the waters throughout the Indo-Pacific ocean, southern Japan, and over to Hawaii. In their natural habitat, they inhabit coral and rocky reefs at depths ranging from approximately 25’ to 200’.
Moray eels have a second set of jaws located in their throats called pharyngeal jaws, which also have teeth. When they are feeding, morays latch onto prey with their outer jaws. They then push their pharyngeal jaws, which are set back in the pharynx, forward into their mouth. They grab their prey with the second set of jaws and pull it down into their throat and stomach. Moray eels are the only fish known to use pharyngeal jaws to capture their prey.
Dragon Moray Eel Care
If you have a large saltwater aquarium and are looking for something special to add to it, a dragon moray eel can be a great choice, provided you’ve got the proper environment for it, and the experience needed to care for it. Keep reading below to learn how to create the perfect environment for your moray eel.
Are Dragon Moray Eel Easy to Care For?
Dragon moray eel is considered difficult to keep in a home tank and is recommended only for experienced aquarists. However, if you already have a large, fully established reef aquarium, you likely already possess many of the knowledge to care for a moray eel. Once established, dragon moray eels are considered to be quite hardy.
The water temperature range that dragon moray eels live in in the wild is between 72º F and 78º F. They are quite comfortable across this whole range if you need to keep your tank towards the upper or lower end of the range for the other fish in your tank.
Water pH, dKH, and Salinity
For a suitable living environment, the pH levels in your tank should be between 8.0 to 8.4.
dKH should be in the range of 8 to 12.
The salinity in your tank needs to be between 1.021 to 1.025.
Nitrites and ammonia should never occur in measurable concentrations.
Dragon Moray Eel Tank Size
To be comfortable and have room to move around freely, the dragon moray eel requires an aquarium that is 180 gallons or larger. As they grow to be quite long, they should be kept in an aquarium that is longer than it is tall. It should be no less than 2 feet from front to back, giving adequate room to build a suitable rock structure with caves for your moray to live in.
It is also important that the tank has a tight-fitting lid, to prevent your eel from escaping. They have been known to jump out the top of aquariums, which could be fatal if you aren’t around to quickly rescue them.
Dragon Morays are bottom dwellers, so they need to have adequate shelter near the bottom of the aquarium. They need a shelter that they can hide inside, especially while getting comfortable with their new living environment. Once settled in, they will often lie with just their heads sticking out of the cave, or fully exposed on the bottom of the tank.
Dragon moray eel is considered reef compatible as they don’t eat corral. However, their sheer size can cause them to be destructive as they move around the tank. In the wild, moray eels will eat pretty much anything they can get into their mouths. Keep this in mind when adding them to an established tank, as they may eat many of the smaller species in your tank. They have even been known to bite fish that are much too large to eat.
When constructing their living environment, it is best to secure all the rocks using either glue, concrete, or cable ties. Items that aren’t fixed down will likely get destroyed at some point on your eel reaches full size. Having rocks tumbling can not only hurt your eel, but it could also cause damage to your tank. Many aquarists will incorporate PVC tubing into their rock piles, ensuring their eels have somewhere easy to get in and out of, even if their environment shifts a little bit.
Dragon Moray Eel Size
Once fully grown, dragon moray eel will grow to be roughly 3 feet in length (0.9 m).
Food & Diet
Dragon morays are carnivorous and should be fed live feeder fish, octopus, squid, and live feeder shrimp. Their main hunting tool is the amazing sense of smell, which makes up for their poor eyesight. This means that weakened or dying creatures are a moray eel’s favorite food source.
When first added to your aquarium, they may not eat for quite some time while they get settled in. It is not uncommon for them to go weeks or longer without eating. Keeping the lights low during feeding time will replicate their nocturnal feeding habits.
Once your eel has become acclimated in its new tank, you can start by feeding it long strips or raw fish such as haddock, smelt, or anything similar. It is important to use long feeding tongs to offer food to your fish; eels don’t have good vision, so they can accidentally strike you if attempting to feed them by hand. (An eel’s bite can cause a serious bacterial infection)
It is very important not to overfeed your eel, as this can lead to a fatty buildup of the liver, which can lead to liver disease. Studies have shown that in the wild they are infrequent eaters. For this reason, it is best to feed your eel no more than twice a week and feed them only what they can eat in a couple of minutes. Overfeeding can also cause your eel to regurgitate its food, which can make a real mess of your tank.
If your eel refuses to eat, it could be overfed, the water temperature may have dropped abruptly, or the quality of the water in the aquarium may have deteriorated. They could also be experiencing high than normal stress levels, caused by being moved or having inadequate tank mates.
In captivity, dragon moray eels live for roughly 10 years. In the wild, they have been known to live longer, up to 20 years of age.
Dragon Moray Eel Breeding
As of yet, it is not possible to breed dragon moray eels in captivity. This is because once the larvae hatch, they float in the ocean for roughly 8 months before metamorphizing and eventually becoming eels. These conditions have proven impossible to replicate in captivity. Therefore, every dragon moray eel sold in a store has been caught in the wild.
Some studies have shown hermaphroditism in moray eels. They also have the ability to change their gender if there aren’t sufficient numbers of the opposite sex.
Although some people claim you can differentiate the different sexes by their markings, scientists believe this not to be true. This is especially true given the fact that they can change their gender. It can be concluded (at this time) that there is no definitive way to know the sex of a particular dragon eel.
Dragon Moray Eel Tank Mates
Dragon moray eels are can be very aggressive, and for this reason, much care needs to be taken when selecting suitable tank mates for them. Even if choosing fish that are much bigger than your moray can eat, they can still take bites at them and can cause quite a bit of damage.
Unless you know that you have a mated pair, or if your tank is extra large (200 gallons or bigger), you should never risk putting two adult moray eels in the same tank. You also need to make sure that there are plenty of places for both eels to hide separately from each other.
If you have a large enough aquarium and feel that your dragon moray eel isn’t too aggressive to have some tank mates, selecting breeds that are tough enough to put up with an eel is important. Some breeds of fish that are suitable to live with a dragon moray include:
- Other large species that aren’t too docile
- Some species of cleaner shrimps, although they may eventually get eaten
Keep in mind that just because your moray doesn’t attack your other specimens right away doesn’t mean that they won’t. Often, they’ll pick the smaller fish off one by one. This can often be caused by underfeeding. By keeping your moray properly fed, they will be much less likely to treat the other fish in your tank as a meal.
Dragon moray eels can also be kept with other moray eels if added to their new environment properly. The key is to make sure that the other eels are at least the same size, or slightly larger than your dragon moray eel.
Where to Buy Dragon Moray Eel
Dragon moray eels are one of the hardest eels to find for purchase. As with all moray eels, they can’t be bred in captivity, so every specimen needs to be caught from the ocean. Because of this, they can be tricky to find, although they are for sale online if you look in the right places. Some large fish stores may have one in a large display tank, but most stores would likely have to order you one in.
Due to how rare they are, dragon moray eels are also very expensive. A young fish can sell for upwards of $800-$1000 USD, while an adult fish can sell for $2000-$3000 USD. If you are looking for a mated pair, expect to spend around $6000-$7000 dollars. As they are such a desired fish, they will often sell very quickly once they are advertised by the seller.
Dragon Moray Eel and Toxins
For years researchers have speculated that moray eels contain toxins in their mouth and that they are poisonous. This has yet to be confirmed or denied. Morays do secrete mucus over their scaleless skin, which in some species does contain toxins.
Dragon Moray Eel Diseases
When given a proper environment with clean water and low-stress levels and a varied diet, these hardy fish rarely get sick. Even when it is brought into their tank by another fish, they are rarely affected by protozoan diseases such as Whitespot (“Ick”, Cryptocaryon) or Velvet (Amyloodinium). They are prone to bacterial diseases though, especially in less-than-perfect living conditions. The best way to avoid any of these issues is to provide a clean environment, and a proper, varied diet.
If you have the proper tank setup and have the resources to purchase one, the brightly colored dragon moray eel can be a great addition to any display aquarium. Most importantly, having the correct tankmates for them will help you create a suitable habitat that will keep your eel happy and healthy for its entire life, as well as keep your other fish safe.