Two Sets of Jaws

Which animal has two sets of jaws?

And the answer: moray eel.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation (after Rita Mehta, UC Davis)

Living mostly in warm saltwater environments, the moray eel is an apex predator, best known for its two sets of jaws. The pharyngeal jaws are located in the eel’s throat. When the main jaws close on its prey, the second set grabs the animal and pulls it back into its throat.

Perhaps a little too closely resembling creatures straight out of a science fiction novel (or even horror), moray eels are fearsome predators that have been known to humankind for decades. Interestingly, the discovery of their feeding abilities is a relatively new one; recent studies using high-speed footage and X-ray videos have revealed these eels' remarkable jaw capabilities. Unlike other sea predators who use suction to trap and consume prey, the moray's large head houses powerful jaw-closing muscles that deliver formidable bites. The sharp long teeth of the main jaws are excellent for gripping so that even if the eel sinks just a few of these in, its prey is trapped. The teeth on the pharyngeal jaws are the final nail in an unbeatable hunting technique. Much like the creature in the 1979 movie Alien, their second set of jaws extend from the eel's throat to pull in its prey.

Moray eels exist in abundance in fresh and salt water across the globe. There are over 200 naturally occurring species of moray, with some even grow over 10 feet in length! To watch the moray eel in action, check out the video below.


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