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Symptoms of Moray Eel Bite

Moray eel is the largest eel fish species. There are 200 different species of moray eel found in marine, fresh, and brackish water. Moray eel range from 6 inches to 12 inches and their bite is too painful.(1) The bite can lead to excessive bleeding as their teeth jut backward so that the prey does not escape. They have a second set of jaws that ensure that the prey goes nowhere. The bite of moral eel ranges from minor to serious and quick action is necessary.(2)

Symptoms of Moray Eel Bite

Moray eel bites range in severity. In fact, the size of the eel also plays a role in the injury it can inflict.

Symptoms of Moray Eel Bite

Common symptoms of moray eel bite are:

  • Extreme and immediate pain
  • Bleeding that can sometimes be very heavy
  • Cuts, gashes, and deep lacerations
  • Swelling
  • Puncture or bite marks
  • Tissue loss from large bites
  • Tendon and nerve injury

Most varieties of eel have poison in their mouth as well as layers of slime that cover their body, which includes a toxin called hemagglutinin. This toxin causes red blood cells to clump.

Crinotoxin, another toxin present in the moral eel, destroys red blood cells.

Moray eels do not contain venom in their teeth like poisonous snakes. No one gets sick or dies from venom poisoning after a moray eel bite.

What To Do When Moray Eel Bites?

If bitten by a moray eel, follow the below-mentioned steps:

  • Make sure to clean the wound immediately with soap and water
  • Apply pressure over the wound to stop the bleeding
  • Apply antibacterial ointment and cover it up with a sterile bandage
  • Take any pain reliever to get rid of the pain
  • Contact the doctor for any further treatment

Common Causes of Moray Eel Bite

Moray eels mostly thrive in tropical oceans and temperate water. It is a popular fish for aquariums and fish tanks. While feeding the fishes, cleaning the tank, and replacing the objects in the tank one can get bitten by them.

Most of the people are bitten on the hand by moray eel when they put their hand in aquarium water.

One has to be very cautious while handling eels at home.

Comparatively wild eels are not dangerous. They are found near the shore and also do not pose threat to people roaming about in shallow surf. Being nocturnal feeders they are less likely seen in the daylight hours. They are not aggressive but can bite if threatened, frightened, or disturbed in their natural habitat.

People who are more near the water are more likely to be bitten.

People around the moray eel habitat i.e. the underwater crevices, coral reefs, and craggy rocks are more likely to be bitten. It includes snorkelers, surfers, deep-sea divers, and coral reef divers.

Those going fishing are also bitten by moral eels while handling them.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Moray Eel Bites

Moray eel bites should be assessed by the doctors early as tetanus shots or antibiotics may be required even for superficial bites.(3)

Deeper bites may require immediate medical attention, stitches, other wound care, and sometimes surgery may be needed.

Sometimes broken eel tooth may remain in the wound that would have to be removed to prevent further harm, infection, or complications.

For large bites, one should attempt to stop bleeding by applying pressure until treatment arrives.

If there is any allergic reaction or difficulty in breathing one should seek medical help immediately.

Complications from Moray Eel Bites

If the bites are not treated quickly with antibiotics, secondary infection may occur. Septicemia can also occur, which is a serious bloodstream infection.

Bacteria present in water can infect the wound and these infections can be avoided with oral and topical antibiotics.

There can be allergic reactions due to moray eel bites. If experiencing symptoms of anaphylactic shock immediate medical help should be called.

Deep bites can cause severe damage to the tissues and bone and would require surgical removal of nearby parts. Loss of limb function can also be a complication of moray eel bite.

How to Prevent Moray Eel Bite?

It is important that only the following professional handle the moray eels, and they include:

  • Educate moray eel specialist
  • Trained aquarium staff
  • Experienced marine field workers

Avoid physical contact with craggy rocks and underwater structures while diving and snorkeling.

If around rocky surf, avoid rocky formations which would lower the risk of disturbing eel habitat. If you cross an eel do not agitate it or lure it.

If you have moray eel in your fish tank do not feed them with hands or put your hand into the tank.

If bitten by eel do not pull away from the eel as it might deepen or lengthen the wound.

Moray eels are not poisonous, but infection can occur due to their bite. Try avoiding too much time near eel habitat and follow precaution if you have an eel fish tank at home

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 25, 2021

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