Thursday, October 1, 2015

A new moray eel: Gymnothorax mishrai

Moray eels are a family of mostly marine living eels that occur in all oceans of the world. Unfortunately, they have a very bad reputation for no reason: Morays are frequently thought of as particularly vicious or ill-tempered animals. In truth, morays hide from humans in crevices and would rather flee than fight. They are shy and secretive, and attack humans only in self defense or mistaken identity. Most attacks stem from disruption of a moray's burrow (to which they do react strongly), but an increasing number also occur during hand feeding of morays by divers, an activity often used by dive companies to attract tourists. Morays have poor vision and rely mostly on their acute sense of smell, making distinguishing between fingers and held food difficult; numerous divers have lost fingers while attempting hand feedings, so the hand feeding of moray eels has been banned in some locations, including the Great Barrier Reef. The moray's rear-hooked teeth and primitive but strong bite mechanism also makes bites on humans more severe, as the eel cannot release its grip, even in death, and must be manually pried off. 

Many of my colleagues state that there are a number of undescribed moray eels especially in the genus Gymnothorax, so today's new species from the Bay of Bengal is not a surprising find. It was named after Subhrendu Sekhar Mishra from the Zoological Survey of India.

For the experts: A new species of short brown unpatterned moray eel of the genus Gymnothorax, Gymnothorax mishrai sp. nov. is described from a specimen of 324 mm total length, collected from the Bay of Bengal. The species is distinguished by having the dorsal-fin origin before gill opening, jaw pores with brown rim, two branchial pores, total vertebrae 134 (MVF: 9-59-134), three median intermaxillary teeth, uniserial maxillary and vomerine teeth. The new species is distinctly different from the other eight described species of this group. This species is also the first species of short brown unpatterned moray eel to be reported from India. 

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