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Puffer vs Eel. Who wins?

By Leonard Ho - Posted
One of the sea's great mouths versus one of the sea's great defensive mechanisms. Can a puffed up pufferfish thwart an eel's attempt eat it?

Despite the puffers best effort, the eel wins.  The reason for the eel's victory lies with its amazing mouth.  Moray eels not only have razor sharp teeth to hook flesh and jaws that can hyper-extend to fit large objects (like a puffed puffer), but they also possess second set of extendable pharyngeal jaws that make them even more effective hunters. 

Wikipedia describes a moray's pharyngeal jaw:

Most fish species with pharyngeal teeth do not have extendable pharyngeal jaws. A particularly notable exception is the highly mobile pharyngeal jaw of the moray eels. These are possibly a response to their inability to swallow as other fishes do by creating a negative pressure in the mouth, perhaps induced by their restricted environmental niche (burrows). Instead, when the moray bites prey, it first bites normally with its oral jaws, capturing the prey. Immediately thereafter, the pharyngeal jaws are brought forward and bite down on the prey to grip it; they then retract, pulling the prey down the moray eel's gullet, allowing it to be swallowed.

300pxPharyngeal_jaws_of_moray_eels.svg.pngIn other words, once the eel chomped down on the pufferfish, its extendable second jaw made sure to lock the pufferfish in its mouth. As great as the pufferfish's defense is at keeping it safe from many other predator, eels have evolved an evolutionary advantage that few fish have.  

The diagram to the right shows how the rare extendable pharyngeal jaw works.  Doesn't it remind you of the xenomorphs in Alien?

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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