Foray into moray

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Although much attention has been directed at the penguins, sharks and stingrays at the new Wildlife World Aquarium, there's another well-known but poorly understood species on display that tends to strike fear in the hearts of reef divers and snorklers -- eels.

The largest of this fearsome species can be found in the Moray Eel tunnel display, appropriately located in the aquarium's Predators building.

Eels are easy to identify. Their dorsal fins stretch from behind their heads all the way to their tail, giving them an almost snake-like appearance. With more than 100 varieties of moray eel, they are readily found throughout the world's tropical and temperate oceans.

Despite their menacing appearance, morays are relatively shy creatures with poor eyesight and a great sense of smell. They prefer to lie in wait of prey animals from the safety of rock crevices and reefs.

One of the reasons for their fearsome reputation may have little to do with being aggressive. Morays have rather small gills and as a result, must continually open and close their mouths in order to pass oxygenated water past their gills.

This is not to suggest that a moray won't defend itself if it feels threatened by humans who get too close or who attempt to feed wild animals. Morays not only have an impressive set of teeth used for grasping and tearing prey, but a second set of teeth and jaws (called pharyngeal jaws) located down their esophagus (i.e., think of the creature in the Alien movies, but without the ability to protrude the second set of jaws!). This extra set of teeth helps to move prey down into the digestive tract.

Be sure to check out the eels on your next visit to Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium.

Grey Stafford, Ph.D. is the Director of Conservation and Communications at the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium and author of the new pet-training book, " ". He appears frequently on 3TV with some of the zoo's fascinating animals.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, which is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daytime admission is $26.50 (plus tax) for adults and $14.25 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger get in free. Special evening admission to the Aquarium only is $16.99 (plus tax) for adults and $8.99 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12. For more information, call 623-935-WILD (9453) or visit .