Please visit our Sponsors
Related FAQs: Moray Eels, Morays 2, Moray Eels 3, Moray Identification, Moray IDs 2, Moray Selection, Moray Behavior, Moray CompatibilityMoray Compatibility 2, Moray Compatibility 3, Moray Compatibility 4, & Moray Systems, Moray Feeding, Moray Disease, Moray Disease 2, Morays and other Eels & Crypt, Moray Reproduction, Freshwater Moray Eels, Zebra Moray Eels, Snowflake Morays, Other Marine Eels Conger Eels Freshwater Moray Eels,

Related Articles: The Zebra Moray (Gymnomuraena zebra), The "Freshwater" Moray Eels, Freshwater Moray Eels by Marco Lichtenberger, Non-Moray Marine Eels, Snake & Worm Eels

Hawai’i, Land of the Puhi!


by Robert Fenner  

“Out of sight is out of mind”, reminiscent of Philip Slater’s “Pursuit of Loneliness” work on societies… And prompting of the real eel situation on Hawai’i’s shallow reefs; many, MANY anguilliform fishes to be found t/here. In assays with poisons like Rotenone years back, and economic true anesthetics in more recent, it’s found that more than half the biomass of these areas occurs as various eel species. And holy moly (!); a BUNCH of species as well; some forty two Morays alone can be found in the 50th US State’s waters, along with sixteen Snake and Worm Eels, and four more shallow species of Conger Eels. This is their story of related natural history and aquarium use.

“I’m in the Mood for A Moray”….

            Moray species are only second (behind Wrasses) in being numerous here; and though mostly unseen, hidden in rock by and large by daylight, their presence in the way of predatory pressure is strongly felt here. Most species are strongly piscivorous (fish eating), with the two most popular “captive use” species being more crustacean consumers. Let’s list them in order of aquarium desirability and use: The first two are unsurprisingly the non-fish eaters alluded to above; with molariform rather than sharp spikey teeth, they use for mainly capturing and crushing crabs and other crustaceans. These two, the Snowflake and Zebra used to make up more than 90% of Eels shipped out of Hawaii for the trade.

The Snowflake, Starry, or Diamond-Backed Moray, puhi kappa in Hawaiian; Echidna nebulosa (Ahl 1789) is a fabulous aquarium species; small, compatible with other fish species and adaptable to captivity. It is certainly the most peaceful, outgoing and desirable moray species. To about thirty inches total length. Base color of silver gray with black and yellow "snowflakes" randomly sprinkled over the lower body. HI pic.

The congener, E. polyzona, the Barred Moray occurs in Hawaii; as beautiful and staying small; was rarely shipped from here; and now, like all Hawaiian eels is not-white-listed for collection.


Gymnomuraena zebra (Shaw in Shaw & Nodder, 1797), the aptly named Zebra Moray is a slow-moving chocolate black with vertical white striped beauty. The suitability for aquaria of the species is reflected in longevity records. Our old service company had some in rentals for fifteen years. There are twenty-something year citations.


Other Morays Collected:

            In dribs and drabs a few other species have been captured for ornament; in traps, by hook and line, and netted by daring scuba divers by night. Again, these were only ever moved in one at a time quantities; and though being better for the trade from Hawaii, are collected no more.

Dragon moray, Enchelycore pardalis, puhi kauila (Temminck & Schlegel 1846). The ones from Hawaii are striking with white bodies and variegated black, yellow; others from Japan have reddish markings. Their name derives from the presence of elongate, pointed jaws and long posterior nostril tubes. They command a high price for their beauty and adaptability, and are worth it. To about four feet in length, and a strong fish eater. Aquarium photo.


Golden dwarf moray (G. melatremus Schultz 1953) To 23 cm.


Gymnothorax meleagris, puhi ‘oni’o (Shaw & Nodder 1795), the White Mouth Moray. Brown to black with numerous white spots. Dark spot around gill opening. Indo-Pacific. Most common Hawaiian puhi/moray. To about forty inches in length. Hawai'i image. 


Scuticaria tigrina Lesson 1830, the Tiger Reef Eel. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to the tropical eastern Pacific, including Hawai'i. To 120 cm. in length. Secretive, nocturnal. Found foraging between rocks at night. Aquarium photo. 


Other Morays Not Collected:
For a few good reasons (getting too big; way too nasty, so having to have their own dedicated system, not being pretty enough; rare and or hard to collect; simply no established market so can’t sell them to marine livestock wholesalers…. the “other moray eels” just don’t make it into the trade from here or anywhere really. I’ll list them for complete-ness sake:
Viper Moray, puhi Kauila, Enchelynassa canina (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824)
Whitemargin Moray, Gymnothorax albimarginatus (Temminck & Schlegel 1846)
Atoll Moray, Gymnothorax atolli (Pietschmann, 1935)
Berndt’s Moray, Gymnothorax berndti Snyder 1904
Latticetail Moray, Gymnothorax buroensis (Bleeker 1857)
Lipspot Moray, Gymnothorax chilospilus Bleeker 1865
Elegant Moray, Gymnothorax elegans Bliss, 1883
Stout Moray, Gymnothorax eurostus (Aboott, 1860)
Yellow Margin Moray, puhi puka, Gymnothorax flavimarginatus (Ruppell 1830)
Brown Spotted Moray, Gymnothorax fuscomaculatus (Schultz in Schultz et al. 1953)
Slender Tail Moray, Gymnothorax gracilicauda Jenkins, 1903
Giant Moray, Gymnothorz javanicus (Bleeker, 1859)
Kidako Moray, Gymnothorax kidako (Temminck & Schlegel 1846)
Yellow Mouth Moray, Gymnothorax nudivmomer (Gunther in Playfair & Gunther, 1867)
Nutting’s Moray, Gymnothorax nuttingi Snyder, 1904 (Hawaiian endemic)
Peppered Moray, puhi kap’a, Gymnothorax pictus (Ahl, 1789)
Pinda Moray, Gymnothorax pindae Smith 1962
Many-Vertebrae Moray, Gymnothorax polyspondylus Bohlke & Randall 2000 (Hawaiian endemic)
Sawtooth Moray, Gymnothorax prismodon Bohlke & Randall 2000
Yellow Head Moray, Gymnothorax rueppellii (McClelland, 1844)
Steindachner’s Moray, Gymnothorax steindachneri Jordan & Evermann, 1903 (Hawaiian endemic)
Undulated Moray; Gymnothorax undulatus (Lacepede 1803)
V-Bar Moray, Gymnothorax ypsilon Hatooka & Randall, 1992
Red Face Moray, Monopenchelys acuta (Parr, 1930)
Snake Morays (subfamily Uropterygiinae)
Pale Tail Moray Anarchias leucurus (Snyder, 1904)
Seychelles Moray, Anachias seychellensis Smith, 1962
Short Tail Snake Moray, Scuticaria okinawae (Jordan & Snyder, 1901)
Brown Spotted Snake Moray, Uropterygius fuscoguttatus Schultz 1953
Drab Snake Eel, Uropterygius inornatus Gosline 1958
Large Head Snake Eel, Uropterygius microcephalus (Bleeker 1865)
Marbled Snake Moray, Uropterygius marmoratus (Lacepede, 1803)
Large-Spotted Snake Moray, Uropteygius polyspilus (Regan, 1909)
Toothy Snake Moray, Uropterygius supraforatus (Regan, 1909)


Conger Eels and Garden Eels, Family Congridae:

            Conger eels are kept by regional public aquariums, but are rare as chicken teeth in the ornamental trade. This is a shame as some do stay small enough (less than two feet) and are beautiful and comical in their behavior and appearance. There are some thirteen species of Hawaiian Congrids described, though there may well be a few other deep water species yet to be discovered.  There are some adventurous/daring LFS that do sell Garden Eels, and again public displays, but I’ve yet to see any Hawaiian Garden Eels offered to hobbyists.

The only Conger Eel I’ve encountered in Hawaii; Conger cinereus  Ruppell 1830, the Mustache Conger or puhi uha. Indo-Pacific. To four feet in length. Found in holes in rocky caves near the bottom. Looks like a sea monster, but is a gentle giant. Hawaii pic during the day.


Snake Eels and Worm Eels, Family Ophichthidae:

            Like Congrids, these fishes are confined to the realm of huge, specialized public aquaria; needing very deep sand beds to burrow in; and even then is rarely seen on exhibit. There are sixteen species recorded from here if you don’t count the six not found in the Johnston Atoll, but not northward.

Other Anguilliform Species Found in Hawaii:

            Of the fifteen families that make up the Order of true eels (Anguilliformes), there are two more with representatives in the 50th State; the Spaghetti Eels (Moringuidae) and False Morays (Chlopsidae). These fishes are never found in the trade, being very reclusive and unattractive; I’ve mentioned them here simply for the sake of completeness.

Some Pertinent Puhi Captive Husbandry:


            Other than the two-three molar-toothed non-fish eating species (the Snowflake, Many-Barred and Zebra Morays), none of the “aquarium-eels” from Hawaii are to be trusted with stocking alongside other fishes. In fact, all can consume unattached invertebrates, and everything is in danger of being bumped and knocked about when they go on their nightly forays. To put this more bluntly and in a positive statement; they are best kept in a species/specimen only setting for their display alone.

            To repeat; yes; there are other Eel species from here and elsewhere that aquarists take calculated risks with. Eventually, unless the eel is small, tankmates large enough, smart enough and fast enough; there are losses.


            Picking out a healthy eel is an easy, straight-forward procedure; as they’re generally good shippers; and amazingly adept at recovering from physical traumas. Look for “bad spots” on the body; reddening of sores, fin origins and especially damage around the mouth. Do ask that the prospective purchase be fed in front of you; and if it is feeding, it is very likely good to go.

Systems: Escape Artists ala Houdini:

            Large, well-filtered, covered and with solid décor sums up what it takes to keep a puhi.
            A good rule of thumb is to provide a tank that is at least three times the length and once the width of what you assume your eel will grow to; really. Over sizing water movement, protein skimming, chemical and mechanical filtration is necessary for these massive, messy fishes. Rock, cave, plastic pipe and possibly substrate for burrowing species needs to be well-thought out in advance. All rock-work needs to be anchored; drilled and pinioned together, to prevent toppling disaster. Last and absolutely important is to provide a VERY secure top to the tank; eels are powerfully strong and able to push unsecured covers out of the way and escape. Their getting out of tanks is almost assuredly the number one source of captive mortality.

Foods/Feeding: NOT By Hand:

            Yes; they can and do bite… and there is growing evidence that venom may be involved in at least some species, but the physical damage alone, complicated with bacteria associated with their mouth should keep your hands out of their system. Use a feeding stick or such for offering food items; and long handled tools for doing maintenance in their system.

            Beware of limited and too Thiaminase-prompting food items. Feeding only shrimp, silversides, fillets (vs. whole small fish)… leads ultimately to nutritional deficiency syndromes. Best to secure “mixed seafood” frozen in serve-able portions (often sold for humans; to make seafood stews), to defrost and feed a piece at a time.

            Eels are subject to goiters more so than most fish groups; the easiest way to avoid them is regularly dosing with “coral” iodide-ate; at stated dosage every water change.

About Eel Conservation:

A cogent argument can be made for preserving eel diversity and abundance; such speciation and numbers provide predator-prey pressure, keeping eel-food fishes, cephalopods and crustaceans “fit” after all. And some valid position can be advanced for not collecting them for the trade, leaving local fishers and their natural predators to “thin the herd”; humans avoiding larger specimens for righteous fear of ciguatera poisoning.

Are there too many eels? When western folks became established in Hawaii in the early nineteenth century, they produced recordings of impressions of fish and octopus stocks there that state there were these other animals in abundance….



            Hawaii IS the land of the Puhi! But unfortunately NOT for the aquarium hobby; as NONE of the eels found there are on the “white list” for collection (Walsh 2013). Be that as it may, none of those used for hobbyist aquariums are endemic either; and can be purchased from other geographies. At least you now are aware of just how many species of eels/puhi are to be found in Hawaiian waters, and can look forward to going there, visiting them first hand.


Bibliography/Further Reading:

Fenner, Robert. 2000. The Zebra Moray Eel, Gymnomuraena zebra. FAMA 7/00.

Gonzalez, Deane. 1976. Puhi. The Marine Aquarist (mag.), V. 7 (7).

Randall, John E. 1996. Shore Fishes of Hawaii. Natural World Press, OR. 216 pp.

Walsh, William J. 2013. Background Paper on West Hawaii Aquarium White List


Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: