• Elopomorpha;
  • Gymnothorax pictus;
  • digestive tract;
  • scanning electron microscopy;
  • phylogeny

The morphology of the digestive tract of the peppered moray eel, Gymnothorax pictus (G. pictus) (Elopomorpha: Anguilliformes) was examined using both light and scanning electron microscopy. The digestive tract is composed of the esophagus, the stomach, and the intestines; pyloric caeca were absent. The stomach was divided into a cardiac region that was continuous with the esophagus, a body which terminated in a long blind sac, and a pyloric region that was continuous with the intestine. The short intestine possessed several partitions that were created by the mucosal folds within the posterior region. The terminal region of the stomach was characterized by the thick longitudinal muscularis and subserosa, and the gastric glands and microvilli were absent. Ciliary tufts of ciliated cells were observed on the surface of the partition-like mucosal folds within the intestinal wall. Acidic mucus was secreted throughout the digestive tract. It was suggested that the terminal region of the stomach is specialized for storage of large food items. In addition, it is possible that the partition-like mucosal folds within the intestine perform a function similar to that of the spiral valve and, and along with ciliated cells, facilitated digestion and absorption. The acidic mucus likely maintained surface epithelium pH and protease activity. Within a phylogenetic context, the absence of a pyloric caeca in G. pictus while possessing an intestine implies that this species is affiliated to groups that had branched off earlier than basal teleosts. Anat Rec, 296:443–451, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.