Fire eels are fascinating, peculiar creatures. They resemble the look of real eels, but they are just elongated fish with spines. Fire eels are a very popular tank and commercial fish, but there are numerous things to consider before taking care of them. Before getting one for yourself, you should read on and learn all there is to know about fire eels.
What Is A Fire Eel?
Fire eels, or Mastacembelus erythrotaenia, are freshwater fish found in Southeast Asia. In some countries, they are eaten and are considered a delicacy. The fire eels are dark brown or grey, with stripes and spots of red marking the body. These marks have varying degrees of intensity based on the age of the fire eel.
These fishes also have sharp spines. Although these spines are harmless on their own, fire eels produce toxic mucus around their body which could poison humans. If you are considering taking care of fire eels, make sure to handle them carefully and avoid holding them as much as possible.
In the wild, fire eels can reach up to a meter in length. In a tank, these fish usually only reach two-thirds of their size in the wild, so you can expect your fire eel to be at least half a meter long. However, some reports say they could reach their full size even in aquariums.
Fire eels are shy bottom-dwelling creatures. These fish spend most of their time hiding in burrows under the sand and mud of slow-moving rivers. They are also nocturnal creatures, preferring to swim and hunt during the night.
How To Take Care Of Fire Eels
Fire eels are very sensitive creatures. Potential owners need to learn about proper handling, feeding, and keeping of the fire eel to ensure that the fish are healthy, stress-free, and happy throughout their lifetime.
Fire eels are not as demanding as other fish when it comes to your tank’s water-chemical composition, but they still need specific requirements to thrive in captivity.
Since fire eels are big fish, they should be kept in tanks of 77 gallons or more. The aquarium water should be kept at a temperature of 24 to 28 degrees Celsius (75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit), with a pH level of only 6.8 to 7.5 and water hardness of not more than 15.
Fire eels are known to be great escape artists. Owners should keep a tight-fitting lid over tanks and ensure that there are no slits or cracks in the aquarium itself. Since they are nocturnal, fire eels also prefer a dimly lit tank in a relatively dark room.
Since fire eels love hiding and burrowing, you should have at least 5 cm (2 inches) of the sand substrate at the bottom of your tank. In addition to sand, you can also put hiding spots such as rocks and driftwood for your fish.
If you want to add plants, consider floating water plants instead of rooted ones. Fire eels dig and burrow without regard to plants around them, so your plants’ roots may end up getting damaged.
Keep in mind that fire eels are predators. As such, they will eat all creatures smaller than them inside the tank. Therefore, if you decide to give your fire eel company, make sure that their tank mates are larger than them and their mouths. Large fish like the Arowana, green terror and oscar fish are ideal companions for the fire eel.
Fire eels may be timid when it comes to other fish, but they are aggressive to their own kind. Due to the fire eels’ aggression and relatively difficult breeding, most keepers say that it is best to keep only one in an aquarium.
Fire eels are omnivores, eating plant matter, small fish, shrimps, insect larvae, and other invertebrates. In captivity, fire eels do not eat plant matter as much but could live on a diet of bloodworms and brine shrimp. Once they are old and big enough, you can feed them with earthworms, pieces of fish, or even live shrimp.
Fire eels easily recognize their owners and will gladly eat out of your hands if you let them. As a matter of fact, you could see videos of them eager and happy to be hand-fed.
If you see your fire eel avoiding food, let them have the food and leave them for a while. Since they are very modest creatures, fire eels may take some time to adjust to their new environment. Eventually, they will get the food left for them when they feel hungry.
However, if they seem to avoid eating for nearly a week, that may be a cause for concern. If your fire eel seems to avoid feeding and is just staying in its hiding spot, you should check your water’s chemical composition to see if it’s causing disturbances to your fish’s appetite. Also, avoid putting fish flakes and other wrong food for your eel, as they could be hazardous to the fire eel’s health.
Owners should always leave up breeding fire eels to the professionals. As stated beforehand, fire eels can get aggressive to their kind, and putting a couple inside an aquarium may cause harm to both of your fish. However, if you decide to take on the task, you should prepare for a long, delicate process.
First, you must get your tank conditions right. The optimal water conditions for breeding are a temperature of 28 to 29 degrees Celsius, a pH level of 7 to 7.2, and water hardness of about 10 in a tank with powerful aeration and filtration.
To ensure proper filtration and aeration, you should put four sprayers in your tank corners. Install a ceramic tube or net stretched over the tank bottom.
Next, prepare your fire eels. Female fire eels can be distinguished from male fire eels by looking at color and size. Female fire eels tend to be paler but bigger compared to their male counterparts. You should feed your fish with live food such as insect larvae, bloodworms, and the like.
Place your fire eels inside the tank, and let the male haunt the female inside the tank. The male will squeeze eggs out of the female. Over the egg-laying period, the female fire eel can lay up to one thousand eggs.
After spawning, you should remove the fish from the tank and renew a third of the water with a fresh one. Keep the lighting to a minimum and process the eggs with methylene blue to keep them from having fungi.
The eggs will hatch in two to three days, and the larvae will start feeding twelve days after. The larvae can eat small portions of ground brine shrimp, and they should be fed five to six times a day.
Young fire eels grow fast, with most juveniles reaching a length of 7 cm in just two months. Renew up to 10% of the water daily, and disinfect it with methylene blue. You should remove any food leftovers as quickly as possible to avoid any bacterial or fungal growth.
Fire eels are companions for moderately experienced freshwater fish owners. They are not suitable pets for beginners due to the amount of preparation and care that goes into them. However, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can expect a timid yet friendly animal that will not hesitate to eat right off your hand.