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What Do Eels & The Movie ‘Alien’ Have In Common? A Deadly Second Jaw

Eels invented an unsettling way of swallowing their victims whole many millions of years before mouthparts like it shocked audiences of the sci-fi horror film, Alien.

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After seizing prey in its jaws, the second set in the throat reaches forward over the length of the animal’s skull, grabs its unwitting prey and drags it down for swallowing in one gulp.

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“This is really an amazing innovation,” said Dr Rita Mehta of the University of California, Davis.Pharyngeal jaws are a “second set” of jaws contained within an animal’s throat, or pharynx, distinct from the primary or oral jaws.


They are believed to have originated as modified gill arches, in much the same way as oral jaws.The very mobile pharyngeal jaws of moray eels were discovered in 2007 by UC Davis scientists.

Almost three decades before (1979), the fictional xenomorph creature from Alien series was first depicted showing a second set of jaws for attacking its prey. At that time, pharyngeal jaws in other fishes were already known, however.