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Aqualife Beauty Uncategorized Freshwater Aquarium Eel-like fish Care Guide: 10 common Eels as pets to consider

Freshwater Aquarium Eel-like fish Care Guide: 10 common Eels as pets to consider

Freshwater aquarium eel-like fish are great alternatives to regular freshwater aquarium fish.

Firstly, a critical clarification is that, most of the other common aquarium eels are NOT true eels but rather freshwater aquarium eel-like fish.

In fish keeping hobby circles, the freshwater eel-like fish are among the 20 different families of the Anguilliformes order whose eels have a rather complex life cycle.

Infact, aquarium eels are just but a group of eels (just a specialized fish from this order) and also eel-like fishes. Their similarity is in the commonality of their diet as well as their long snakelike bodies.

NOTE: Just a clarification, in this article, the “eel” term will refer to both true freshwater aquarium eel species and the freshwater aquarium eel-like fish.

In addition, for most, both their dorsal and pelvic fins merge with the tail fin. A continuous fin fringe is in effect formed.  Besides, the only gill opens at the throat for most.

The European and American eels, both from the Anguillidae family as well as the Spaghetti/Worm eels from the Moringuidae family are the commonest examples of TRUE eels.

Unfortunately however, eels as pets are not ideal with beginners. Unlike the low maintenance fish, pet eels are particularly advised if one has some experience especially with keeping fish in tanks. The experience and lessons therefrom are vital to successfully raise freshwater eel-like fish in an eek tank.

However, despite the challenges, these slimy creatures can still be a beauty in you tank.

In tropical and subtropical as well as temperate climates is where freshwater eels are found.

Having said that though, all eel species never are to stay in freshwater their whole life. They’ll will at one point or another, especially breeding time return to the ocean. 

Even those eels christened as freshwater eels just tolerate freshwater because they are hardy but are generally brakish water fish.

Behavioral attributes of a freshwater aquarium eel-like fish:

Most eels (true eels) and eel-like fish are bottom dwellers.

Besides spending much of their time at the bottom, most eel species are still able to breathe air from the atmosphere.

They can be aggressive especially with small tankmates. The aggression may also be encouraged by overcrowding in the tank.

While they need good enough space to swim and move about, they are also very comfortable hiding in caves and holes. This is because most are nocturnal and are overly inactive for most of their time.

Barrowing in the substrate is also common with some.

They are also scavengers and good predators.

Additionally, they are well enabled jumpers; escaping the aquarium from any openings available. Therefore, the tank must have a tight lid else they’ll escape.

Moreover, for additional safety against escape, the filter outlets too must be secured.     

Freshwater eel fish tank set-up:

When setting up an eel tank, it is critical to first consider their behavior.

Firstly, because they like to hide, a planted tank with rocks and driftwood will provide just that; hiding spaces.

In addition, these will dim the tank which makes them more comfortable.

Further, their bodies have very thin scales for protection which makes them “naked like”. This subsequently makes them want to barrow in the substrate.

As a result therefore, ensure the substrate is soft enough and that there are no sharp objects that can hurt. Peat and fine sand are good substrates for instance.

What do freshwater aquarium pet eels eat?

Firstly, eels are carnivorous in nature eating crustaceans, small fish and insects among others.

They may occasionally eat plants.

In the aquariums however, eel diet is predominantly live, frozen and/or freeze dried foods as well as pelleted foods. Daphnia, feeder fish even brine shrimps are all part of their diet.

Do freshwater eels have teeth?

The answer is both yes and no. Subsequently, for those eels that have, they’ll crush their prey with these teeth.

Other observations as a result of species diversity with regard to feeding are but not limited to:

  • They prefer feeding in the evening hence once a day is very much in order,
  • Some other species will only feed once a fortnight as opposed to feeding daily.
Can freshwater aquarium eel-like fish and eels bite?

This is presumably the next concern, now that we know that some eel species have teeth.

The answer is Yes! they can and actually do bite.

Well, ordinarily and especially when newly brought home, eels can be very skittish, shy and almost scared. That is highly expected though.

Over time however and after building familiarity, they actually turn social to a point of telling you apart from strangers. Well, not all because some are aggressive, particularly the large eels.

Always be wary of those with big and powerful jaws besides sharp teeth because they can inflict massive pain in-case of bites.

Can eels hurt in any other way? Besides the risk of bites, Electric eels pose perhaps the greatest risk. There are some that are capable of generating high enough voltage to instantaneously stop the heart of an adult human being.

Common freshwater aquarium eel-like fish and eel pets diseases:

A healthy eel will for starters have a healthy appetite, bright and clear eyes as well as even coloration.

Moreover, eels are generally hardy and can thus withstand water conditions variations. However, that is not to mean they should be exposed to extremely unhealthy tank conditions and for long durations before corrective measure are taken to improve the water quality.

Poor water quality and tank overcrowding puts them under undesirable stress. Subsequently, the stress actively compromises the immunity of your pet eel.

As a result of poor water conditions and compromised immunity, one common health issue that affects eels is Ich.

This is characterized by white spots, both on the body and the fins.

Additionally, you’ll notice rapid respirations and awkward swimming besides incessant brushing of the body against the tank surfaces and other hard objects. 

The good thing is that this can be is easily addressed. A commercial Ich treatment can be used on the quarantined eel. In addition, raise the aquarium temperatures as well as add aquarium salt.

Salt is particularly helpful in treating Ich injuries. It works by forming a slime coat which essentially helps in nitrate intake prevention.

The treatment should be done alongside proper water change and sufficient filtration for quality improvement.

How long do freshwater eellike fish live?

Well, lifespans vary across species. That said however, they are estimated to live between 10 – 18 years.

Moreover, from the stores that breeds and stocks freshwater aquarium eels for sale, their prices will vary from one species to the other. For instance, Electric eels are priced at about $280 – $300.

To the contrary, others will cost you a little less; for example, Fire eels and Tire Track eels would be priced at about $15 – $20 and $18 – $20 respectively.

Compatible freshwater aquarium eel tank mates?

What fish can live with eels? Well, this is dependent on the temperament of your eel pet. Some eels are not only naturally big but also aggressive.

Subsequently, if such are tanked with small, peaceable and particularly slow swimming fish, the fish may not have a comfortable stay. Besides, they could easily be preyed on.

If you therefore stock small eels that are also non-aggressive, equally non aggressive fish are ideal tankmates.

As such therefore, it’s critical that freshwater aquarium eels are not in a community tank with such “weakly” fish.

However, because eels and aquarium eel-like fish 🐟 are bottom dwellers, they may share the aquarium with top – middle tank swimmers. Besides, they should be somewhat aggressive, large sized and a good, fast swimmer.

All these are critical attributes on the part of the fish to enable fend off possible attacks from the eel. Because it can be tough in there with the eels; it equally must be tough too.

Some of the compatible large and aggressive fish may include Tangs, Wrasses, Lion and Trigger fishes among others.

How big do freshwater aquarium eel-like fish grow?

This unfortunately has no definite answer. Similar to eels’ lifespans, different eel species will grow to different lengths.

However, most of the eel species have an average size range of 12” – 36” (30 – 90 cm).

Types of freshwater eels for aquariums:

#01. The smallest freshwater aquarium eels.

The 2 common small eel species in this group include:

Kuhli Loach:

It is a tiny eel and perhaps the smallest freshwater eel for aquariums at about 4” being the maximum length. As a result, it sure doesn’t ask for too much room to thrive and be comfortable.

Freshwater aquarium eel

It definitely is one of coolest fish courtesy of its uncommon coloration and appearance.

However, because it’s a schooling eel with each individual requiring about 20 gallons, should you increase the number, you’ll have to subsequently increase the space.

A group of about 4 – 6 is most ideal.

Its tankmates should not be too small that it will eat them. Likewise, they shouldn’t be too big and aggressive to prey on it.

It loves to burrow in the substrate or hide in the rock, caves and the driftwood in the aquarium.

Further, as stated about eels being escape artist, Kuhli loach will like all eels want to squeeze and slither their way through the tinniest openings available.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
74(° C) – 88(° C)5.5 – 6.56.5 – 10 dGH4”100 – 125 gallons
Half-Banded Spiny Eel:

This is another small freshwater aquarium eel-like fish and an ideal pet eel for beginners. With good eel care, it can live as long as 5 – 10 years.

In addition, it can comfortably be kept in small aquariums; 10 gallons in its juvenile stage and a maximum of about 55 gallons in maturity.

It is a good tempered eel that will get along well with other tankmates particularly those about 2” and above in size.

Freshwater aquarium eel

Though it loves to barrow in the substrate, its most active time is during the day. As a result, a lot of hiding places are very necessary for its happy stay in the tank. With them, floating plants are preferred than planted ones as it will effortlessly uproot them.

Being carnivorous, live bloodworms, ghost shrimps and crustaceans are the main diet.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
74(° C) – 80(° C)6.7 – 7.55 – 13 dGH8.0”40 – 55 gallons

#02. Tire track eel:

Amazingly, this freshwater eel is unique in that each individual member of this species has a character only it alone has.

Though classified as a freshwater eel, they occasionally need brackish water to increase its hardiness. The salinity not only improves its immunity and prevents parasites infestation but most importantly, improves its health.

This freshwater aquarium eel pet is shy and elusive in a new tank. However, it outgrows this with time.

Further, it needs a lot of room to be comfortable full of hiding places. PVC pipes are a great addition to the tank for that purpose. They offer places to leisurely hang about on.

Further, it loves to barrow in the substrate. Therefore, the substrate should be soft and without sharp and abrasive objects lest its underbelly is hurt.

Just as it is territorial with members of its own kind, it equally is aggressive with tiny tankmates. Subsequently, a larger tank is a necessity if keeping more than one of the same species.

In addition, if planning to add more of its kind in the tank, ensure it is within 90 – 120 days. This is because, past that timeline, it’ll have gotten comfortable in solitude that it will be aggressive with any addition.

For tankmates therefore, ensure they are big enough not to fit in its mouth else it’ll feed on them.

That they only feed on live foods and never on flake foods reduces their popularity.

Finally, strong water flow must be ensured constantly to sufficiently oxygenate the water besides proper filtration.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
74(° C) – 82(° C)6.7 – 8.05 – 15 dGH30.0”125 –150 gallons

#03. Asian swamp eel:

This freshwater aquarium eel is one among the largest, clocking about 45” at maturity. As a result, to firstly enable it stretch out fully, this pet eel demands a big eel tank.

Temperamentally, this eel-like fish is very territorial and aggressive. The aggression is particularly high while at the juvenile stage.

As a result, 180 gallons tank would house just one while 2 of the same kind would need a 400 gallons tank minimum. A big tank also helps to reduce water quality deterioration. This is good because it reduces chances for fungal infections to which they are prone.

As it is aggressive with those of its kind, it is equally aggressive to any tankmate(s). However, while there are still no guarantees, equally big tankmates (over 10” big) as them can be co-tanked with them.

Its strong jaws enable it to bite and kill even large fishes than them.

Surprisingly, aggression declines as it ages. As a result, it will lethargically swim on the water surface without bothering other tankmates.

Barrowing is not too common with them. However, while it’s not shy, a heavily planted tank, filled with hollow driftwood, rocks and caves makes for a habitable place.

Live feeds including fish form their diet. On the contrary, they have few to zero predators.

Its lifespan is roughly 10 – 12 years.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
77(° C) – 84(° C)6.5 – 8.05 – 25 dGH45.0”180 –200 gallons

#04. Zig-Zag eel (Mastacembelus armatus):

While at the juvenile stage, their coloration is similar to that of Tire track eels hence difficulty in distinguishing them.

However, in maturity, the Zig-zag eel will outgrow the Tire track eel reaching to about 40” though they may not attain that size in captivity.

Its ideal eel tank size is 125 gallons minimum.

This eel’s aquarium needs to provide it with hiding spots and also create a territory. As a result, it should be densely planted, PVC pipes added in as well as rocks and caves.

During the day, they’ll mostly barrow in the substrate. As a result, for this pet freshwater eel, the substrate should be soft.

Moreover, they are nocturnal predators and will thus come out to prey in the dark.  

Because they are semi-aggressive, equally semi-aggressive tankmates would be ideal for safe cohabiting. They should particularly be large enough not to be preyed on.

It is carnivorous; feeding on live feeds like ghost shrimp, tubifex as well as frozen shrimp and bloodworms.

To help with sufficient water oxygenation and good water current/flow, ensure to have a reliably strong filter.

With good eel care, it can live to about 15 – 18 years.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
73(° C) – 84(° C)6.5 – 8.05 – 15 dGH40.0”125 –150 gallons

#05. Fire eel:

You want an eel you can feed by hand? Then this is it.

This pet eel is one of the few eels as pets that can attain humongous size at maturity, measuring about 40”s. It is the largest of all spiny eels and very hardy.

This subsequently makes them demand for a spacious eel tank if it’s to comfortably thrive. As a result, 180 gallons eel tank is just about the minimum for this freshwater aquarium eel-like fish.

A good soft substrate (layer of about 2.5”) is essential in the tank for it to barrow.

Being nocturnal, it’s most active at night. Therefore, a dimly lit environment may make them equally active during the day.

It is not aggressive hence can co-exist in a tank with other tankmates. Additionally, it will not prey on them if they are either big enough not to fit in its mouth or they are not considered as food.

That said though, bottom dwellers are not recommended as tankmates because it is a bottom dweller too. A fight for space will be inevitable.

However, tanked with other fire eels, it can be territorial. As a result, a well planted tank is very ideal to provide hiding places though keeping it alone is best.

Floating plants are recommended because this eel-like fish will effortlessly uproot plants as they barrow.

It is omnivorous. At juvenile stage, ghost shrimps, bloodworms and krill are preferred while nightcrawlers are best in adulthood.

You should also have a sufficiently reliable filtration system.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
73(° C) – 84(° C)6.5 – 8.05 – 15 dGH40.0”180 gallons

#06. Electric eel:

From the knifefish family, this is undoubtedly one of the most difficult eel pet to keep. Firstly, an adult needs a tank not any smaller than 540 gallons.

In an ideal habitat, it can live upto 15 years.

It is considered as one of the boring and uninspiring pet eels. It motionlessly wears off its day barrowed in the substrate. Infact, the only movements are when it’s feeding or moving to the water surface (source of about 80% of its oxygen) to breath.  

In the aquarium, the space between the water surface and the tank’s lid should be about 6”. It is from this space they get to gulp oxygen in every 10 minutes intervals or so.

A big CAUTION is that, its electricity generation ability is of over 500volts and 1 ampere. This is more than enough to incapacitate and stop the heart of an adult human being.

Growing to about 95”, it is not only a large and territorial but also deadly eel-like fish that CANNOT co-exist with other tankmates. This is also true to other electric eels species too.

One electric discharge can kill even large fish that it can’t necessarily eat.

Anything small enough to fit its mouth is food.

It is such a risky and difficult creature to keep. It’s a NO GO ZONE for me.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
74(° C) – 84(° C)5.5 – 6.53 – 12 dGH95.0”540 gallons

#07: Peacock eel:

This freshwater aquarium eel is also known as Siamese Spiny eel or Spot-finned Spiny eel.

Firstly, this is a true eel inhabiting densely vegetated habitats with naturally slow-flowing waters.

Floating plants provides a good cover for a dimly lit aquarium. Rocks, driftwoods, and PVC pipes provides it with great hiding spaces.

It’s not too hardy making it have immense sensitivity to water conditions. As a result, delicate care is needed. What this therefore means is that, for a healthy eel tank, you’d have to provide:

  • A tight and secure lid for the tank,
  • both soft water and substrate of about 2” layer,  
  • Sufficient gravel filtration,
  • A filter with low water current; a sponge filter for instance.
  • Air stones to properly oxygenate the water

Besides being shy, it is nocturnal hence barrows in the substrate all day only to come out in the night to feed.

It is easily compatible with other peaceable and non-aggressive fish. In addition, it’s not territorial with others of its kind hence can easily co-exist as long as they are of the same size/age.

Worms, mosquito larvae and other small crustaceans form its diet. Blood, earth and black worms are all part of its food composition.

It can grace your tank for well over 15 years with good care.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
74(° C) – 80(° C)6.5 – 7.35 – 15 dGH11.0”35 gallons

#08: Rubber eel:

This is basically a fish-like amphibian only lacking legs but can still cope in a freshwater aquarium. Salamanders, toads and frogs are just some of its close relations.

They are shy and prefer dark areas.

A 55 gallons tank will be sufficient to provide it enough breathing space. They have lungs because they’re air breathers. However, because they can also breathe through skin, the water must therefore be well oxygenated.

It is a near blind scavenger that won’t bother fish tankmates. However, the ideal small fishes should be quick and agile when tanked with it.

The substrate should be soft not to hurt/injure their very sensitive and slimy coats.

If well fed and paired, they’ll easily breed. After 220day gestation period, upto 7 younglings are born.

They are carnivorous hence will feed on small fish and worms.

Temperature (° C)pH LevelWater hardnessMaximum SizeAquarium size (At Adult)
76(° C) – 84(° C)6.5 – 8.05 – 15 dGH22.0”35 gallons


A freshwater aquarium eel-like fish can be great pet to keep with exception of a few. They are however not easy to care for especially with beginner keepers. In all you

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