Eels belong to the taxonomic Order Anguilliformes, which consists of around 800 species. They have one of the most distinctive fish shapes, with a snakelike, elongated body, lack of pelvic fins and a fused dorsal fin which runs almost the whole length of the fish. By flexing their long bodies, eels move in a wavelike swimming pattern, and are perfectly capable of swimming backwards just as well as forwards.
Some of the most conspicuous eel species seen at Ascension Island are the moray eels (of the family Muraenidae). They are often to be seen in shallow waters, particularly in or close to rocky areas. While morays have a reputation for being aggressive or vicious, they will typically retreat from danger and seek refuge under rocks or by burying themselves into sand. Their typical posture of sitting with their mouths open may seem threatening, but this behaviour is often associated with the eel passing water through the mouth and over their gills in order to breathe.
Due to the narrow profile of their heads, moray eels do not have the powerful biting muscles of similarly-sized fish but instead have a unique set of secondary jaws to help capture prey. These secondary jaws (called pharyngeal jaws) help to pull prey into the moray’s mouth while the backwards-facing teeth of the primary jaws prevent escape. However, this complex mouth structure can increase the severity of moray bites as the eel cannot easily release its grip.
Aggressive attacks from morays are relatively rare, with most bites being in self-defence or mistaking objects for food. As the eyesight of morays is typically poor, they rely significantly on their sense of smell which may pick up on lingering odours of food on wetsuits and skin. Feeding of moray eels may also result in them associating people with food and have resulted in an increase in the number of bites elsewhere in the world. By avoiding the feeding of and keeping a respectful distance from these beautiful marine animals they can be enjoyed, keeping both eels and humans safe from harm.
This issue of stamps includes 5 different moray eels (broadbanded moray, whitespotted moray, chain moray, goldtail moray and brown moray) together with the spotted snake eel. The Brazilian garden eel appears on the First Day Cover.
Photography: Dr Andrew Richardson, AIG Conservation
Designer: Bee Design
Process: Stochastic lithography
Stamp Size: 36 x 36mm
Sheet Format: 10
Perforation: 13.3 per 2cms
Release Date: 12 April, 2017
Production Co-ordination:Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd