The freshwater moray eel’s unique and intimidating look combined with their interesting personalities make them a must-have for many fish enthusiasts.
However, there are some misconceptions about this interesting creature that results in them frequently starving or dying due to various problems. This post will highlight the misconceptions about freshwater moray eels and provide helpful tips regarding their care.
When properly kept, these creatures can make for a wonderful fish pet that frequently lives for longer than 10 years.
The Freshwater Moray Eel Species
The most common moray eel sold as a freshwater fish is the Gymnothorax tile, which is often what people are referring to when they reference a freshwater moray eel.
This species has several different names, including “Indian mud moray”, “gold dust moray”, and “snowflake eel”. It has a gray body that’s covered in many golden yellow dots that are present along the lateral and dorsal sides.
As these eels age, the dots become smaller and result in the eel appearing a solid-gray color. The species commonly grows to be about 24 inches in length, and it’s found in the East Indian Sundaban mangrove swamps, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Andaman Islands.
One species of freshwater moray eel that’s often confused with Gymnothorax tile is Gymnothorax polyuranodon. This species has a white to yellow base color with brown spots, and juveniles tend to be less colorful.
They inhabit the same locations as Gymnothorax tile, but they’re also found in New Guinea, Palau, Australia, and the Fiji Islands. This less-common species has been observed at around 3 feet in length, but they commonly only reach 20 inches.
Echidna rhodochilu is another species of freshwater moray eel that’s seen in pet trade. Found in Indonesia and the Philippines, this species has a uniform brown or greenish color with a prominent white spot at the corner of its mouth.
This is one of the smallest moray eel species and tends to reach around 14 inches in length.
There are several other species of moray eels that can be found in brackish and fresh water, often being referred to as freshwater moray eels. However, these eels are almost never seen in the pet trade.
One of these that’s admired by enthusiasts is the slender giant moray, or Strophidon sathete. This eel grows to be over 4 feet long and is not fit for the average home aquarium.
Freshwater Habitat Misconceptions
The most common misconception about freshwater moray eels lies in its own name — the “freshwater” aspect.While it may be easy to see a moray eel being sold as a “freshwater” moray eel and assume that it’s a species that’s acclimated to living in freshwater, this isn’t true at all.
Almost every eel species that falls under the scope of “freshwater moray eel” needs to be kept in brackish or marine water to stay alive. There are some exceptions, but those species aren’t very common.
Why do these eels have freshwater in their name, then? Simply put, it’s because these eels are caught in freshwater.
However, that doesn’t mean that they stay in that environment.
In reality, most freshwater moray eels simply enter freshwater for a few weeks for food, to remove saltwater parasites, and to spawn. After those tasks are complete, they return back to their natural saltwater environment.
If you see pet stores or online sources stating that a type of freshwater moray eel is able to live in freshwater, that information is most likely inaccurate.
The natural habitats of these eels are coastal mangrove swamps and tropical estuaries. Salinity in these areas does vary, but it’s often quite close to marine salinity.
If a moray eel is kept in an enclosure that’s unlike this environment, they’re vulnerable to quite a few different problems. In freshwater, moray eels are vulnerable to many diseases and may reject their food and starve quite quickly.
Some species such as Gymnothorax polyurandon and Echidna rhodochilus may live up to two years in a tank with hard freshwater. However, Gymnothorax tile has a much shorter life expectancy in that water.
Freshwater Moray Eel Care
While these creatures tragically won’t live very long if improperly cared for, they do make great fish for knowledgeable enthusiasts.
While the type of water that they’re kept in is very important, there’s several other aspects that should be considered for long-term health. All three of the aforementioned freshwater moray eels have needs that align with our care guide highlighted below.
A common trend among first-time moray eel owners is struggling to get the eel to actually eat. While moray eels are very hardy creatures that can survive a month or more without food, they’re often kept in quarantine and in a store for multiple weeks without proper feeding.
This can result in a moray eel quickly dying in your care if you can’t figure out how to properly feed them.
The optimal moray eel diet consists of several different kinds of frozen sea food. Mixtures of prawn, fish, squid, and mussel flesh are all very healthy foods for a freshwater moray eel. This food should be cut into small, safe pieces and fed with a pair of tweezers to make sure that it’s eaten.
Since moray eels are nocturnal hunters, they naturally have very poor eyesight and rely on their sense of smell to find their food.
Since filters can quickly spread food throughout the tank, it can be hard for a moray to find enough of it. Keeping the feeding location to one part of the tank makes this process a lot easier for the eel.
If your moray simply refuses to eat, there are a few things that you can do. First of all, turning off the lights tends to help make the eel feel more confident in leaving its cave.
Dangling the food right in front of the moray eel’s eyes will make the food extremely easy to spot and quite tempting to eat.
If those previously mentioned strategies don’t work, you may have to resort to feeder crustaceans and fish.
While unquarantined feeders that are acquired from stores carry the danger of introducing diseases to your moray, home-raised feeders tend to be a much safer option.
Small Procambarus crayfish, shrimp, guppies, and mollies will all work well and tolerate the high salinity of a moray tank. As the number of feeders decreases, slowly transition your moray eel to frozen food.
Be patient with this process, though, as it may take weeks for them to become fully comfortable.
As time progresses, your moray should start to affiliate you with food. Thus, they’ll tend to wander out of their cave towards a person that’s standing outside of their tank in hopes of a meal time.
If you stick to a strict schedule, your moray eel will learn what that schedule is and wait for you to feed them around that time.
Freshwater moray eels don’t need to be fed every day. Younger eels should be fed every other day, while adult eels only need to eat twice a week. Be sure to provide easily-edible pieces, as moray eels tend to have trouble breaking apart large pieces of food.
Uneaten food should be removed from the tank quickly and carefully.
While moray eels may be predators and have quite an intimidating look to them, they are fish that are easily stressed. Making constant changes to a moray eel’s tank is a good way to stress them out and keep them from eating for several days up to several weeks.
Therefore, it’s important that you make sure that your freshwater moray eel’s tank is optimal from day 1 and won’t require much change.
A notable trait that moray eels have is that they are very curious. They will thoroughly investigate every crack and gap of their enclosure to find food and new places to hide.
Because of this, your freshwater moray eel’s tank will need a lid that contains no holes.
Quite a few eels are found dead on the floor due to small openings in tank lids. If you happen to find your moray eel on the floor, scoop them up with a net as soon as possible and place them back into their tank.
Freshwater moray eels are relatively inactive eels compared to other moray species. For a large portion of the day, these eels will sit in a narrow cave and observe the world around them.
They will only leave their cave for a short while if they smell food, want to inspect something, or the lights are off. Due to this, you’ll want to provide them with plenty of tight caves and holes. Reef rock with aragonite sand substrate is often used to achieve this.
Since these eels don’t swim a lot, it’s commonly thought that they only need small tanks. However, this isn’t recommended.
Freshwater moray eels have a predatory diet that results in a lot of waste that would raise the nitrate levels of a small tank quickly. Therefore, lots of water and excellent filtration is necessary to maintain safe water quality.
For an adult Gymnothorax tile, the minimum recommended tank size is 30 gallons, and it’s 60 gallons for two adults.
Freshwater Moray Eel Tank Mates
One of the reasons behind why moray eels are so loved is their unique personalities! Because of this individualistic personality, some specimens will react very differently to tank mates than others.
While some will hunt down and kill any living creatures in their tank, others will gladly live in harmony with them.
Many crustaceans such as crayfish and shrimp are almost immediately eat, while hermit crabs and Porcellanella tend to have better luck. Fish such as guppies, mollies, tangs, wrasses, archers, and scats almost always get eaten, too.
Some owners try to house their freshwater moray eels with common brackish pufferfish such as Tetraodon nigroviridis. However, some moray eels have died after trying to eat a pufferfish, so this isn’t the best idea.
Fortunately, freshwater moray eels can be housed in smaller groups as long as they’re kept in a decently-sized tank with adequate amounts of food. These eels don’t show signs of intraspecific aggression when their environmental needs are met.
Due to these traits, a species tank is recommended for long-term cohabitation without casualties. Tank mates such as turbo snails and hermit crabs can be used to clean the tank and reduce the amount of times you need to access the tank for cleaning.
Purchasing Freshwater Moray Eels
This type of eel is well-loved by both experienced and novice aquarium enthusiasts. It’s such a fascinating creature that isn’t very difficult to care for when one is aware of their specific needs.
Due to this popularity and the relative ease of which they’re acquired, they’re available for decently affordable prices.
Young freshwater moray eels, specifically Gymnothorax tile, can be purchased from pet stores for as little as $20. If you’re looking to purchase a less common species of freshwater moray eel, you can expect to pay between $50-$100.
This price is exacerbated by the fact that the less common morays are sold by specialty breeders that tend to charge more but raise healthier specimens.
So, for a decently low price, you’re able to purchase a freshwater moray eel and supply them with an optimal enclosure. These creatures are fascinating and can make for a great addition to any aquarium enthusiast’s collection.
If you’re going to purchase one of these fish, though, keep note of the fact that their name is a bit misleading and that they tend to only like tank mates of its own species.