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10/10 for Ribbon Eels: Nature’s Rhythmic Gymnasts

Gymnasts can practice with ribbons for their floor routines all they want, but, if we made the Olympics a multi-species event, the ribbon eel would undoubtedly swim away as the all-time pro.

There are plenty of names for this gaudy fish. Scientists know it as Rhinomuraena quaesita, but its common names include the ribbon moray, black leafnosed moray, ribbon eel, and black ribbon eel. And if you want to practice your French, or just sound fancy, you can call it Rhinomurène Blue.

Strange as it may look, though, the ribbon eel isn’t really an elusive species. The fish is found around the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Tonga to Tanzania, from the Marshall Islands to Mautitius. And despite the fact that they look all dressed up to go out, the eels are pretty much homebodies. The IUCN report on the species states, “This species tends to be site attached; individuals have been known to stay in the same hole for months or even years.” So no commitment issues here.

EelGymnast_GIF

But they are unusual compared to their close relatives. While the eel’s general body shape makes it easy to look at Rhinomuraena and say “That’s a moray,” it’s proportions make it stand out.

In a 2008 study, University of California ichthyologists Joshue Reece and Rita Mehta looked at the “evolutionary history of elongation and maximum body length in moray eels.” It’s the kind of science that can easily lead to “that’s what she said” jokes — with lots of elongation ratios and axial elongation indexes — but the upshot is that around eight million years ago the ancestral ribbon eel underwent a rapid evolutionary change to add vertebrae to its back and become a living, toothy streamer.

And that would certainly give it as literal edge over other athletic competitors. Moray mouths are notoriously dirty and their bites can cause awful infections, something any judge tempted to give the moray less than a perfect 10 would want to keep in mind.

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