Also referred to as the Mastacembelus erythroataenia, the Fire eel is one among the largest eels. Although not a true eel, its features resemble a real eel and it is for this reason that it obtained its name.
Apart from its snake-like appearance usually associated with eels, it has very little or no resemblance to an actual eel. On its profile are the pointed snout on the face and a long lithe body measuring anything from 60cm to 100cm for a mature fish.
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Appearance of Fire Eel
The Fire eel has an elongated body. This is covered by scales. On its face are huge protruding eyes. Next to the eyes are posterior nostrils that stand out.
There is an outgrowth on the snout. It is very sensitive and is used to feel the bottom of water for any feeds. Two tabulated nostrils dot the end of the long nose. It is due to the peculiar appearance that this fish was included in the Mastacembelidae family.
The fire eel has a fully developed tail. The pectoral fins as well as the air-bladder are developed too. Another unique feature is the dorsal fin that is divided into two parts. Towards the end of the caudal fin are the dorsal and anal fins. Both are narrow and relatively long.
The fish has a dark brown color on its body. It lacks abdominal fins. Along its profile are four lateral strips. These are orange to bright red in color. Most often, they are dotted with tiny spots and thin lines.
The spots on the fish vary. This mostly depends on tank conditions and age of the fish. Perhaps one of the most unique feature of the fire eel is the red edge on the pectoral, anal and dorsal fins. It can live for ten years or more if taken care of well in captivity. In the wild, it may grow to 3.3ft, and about 20 inches in the aquarium.
The fish is native to the Asian Riverbeds of the South-East. It is mainly found in slow moving muddy lakes and rivers where it buries itself in the mud. Asian countries that house it include Pakistan, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
For the locals of the regions it is found, it is a preferred delicacy. However, it is known to be aggressive and may easily harm a fisherman who is not careful when getting it out of the net. It has rather sharp spines, though these are not poisonous. Still, plenty of care ought to be taken as the slime produced by spikes contain some level of toxins that may be harmful.
The fish grows immensely after just a while. The following tank conditions would be ideal for it:
- A 80 gallon tank or slightly more than 350 liters.
- A thick substrate of sand, approximately 2 inches (5cm) thick, and fine loam. The edges of the sand should be smooth to avoid scratching its smooth body.
- Provide rocks with sizeable crevices where the fish will hide. Remember it mainly sticks to the mud in its natural habitat. Try to mimic this kind of environment in the tank as well.
- Floating plants to provide a shadow. Rooted plants may not last long as it is a bottom dwelling fish.
- Keep the temperatures at about 25-28C or 74-82F.
- Maintain a pH of between 6.8 and 7.5.
- A water hardness of 15.
- Provide a tight lid over the tank since it uses every opportunity to escape from captivity.
- Provide sufficient aeration.
- Ensure the filter is functioning well to keep the water clean.
- Maintain a continuous water flow.
- Renew the water regularly.
The fire eel begins to recognize its owner after just a short while. Feeding it from the hand often stimulates this. It feeds on both live, dried and frozen foods. To help it grow to maturity quickly, the following should be included in its diet:
- Insect larvae
- Small fishes
The Fire eel is a predatory fish that hunts for its feeds in the wild. Owing to its size, it also feeds well. It is important to offer it sufficient feeds so that it thrives. Sufficient feeds often leads to a good coloration of the fish and makes it quite active.
Distinguishing males from females is possible. The female fish is larger while dull colored. On the contrary, the male is slightly trim with a brighter color that gets more heightened during breeding.
Like most fish in captivity, breeding the fire eel is a gigantic task. Although it is advisable to initiate hormonal injections using special substances, chances of success are usually not very promising. All the same, there is always the desire to try. The following tank conditions are necessary for breeding:
- A 90 or more gallon tank
- Water temperature of between 28 and 29C
- Water hardness of about 10
- A pH of between 7 and 7.2
- Powerful tank aeration
- Sufficient water filtration
- 4 sprayers on all the four corners of the tank
- Proper feeds for the fish. These may include tubifex, insect larvae and bloodworms
The male hunts the female, chasing it all over the tank. As soon as it catches up with her, it squeezes eggs out from her. By the time the egg laying process is over, the female should have laid approximately 670 to 1000 eggs or more.
After spawning, both the fish are ejected from the tank. Fresh water is added to ensure the environment is right for the eggs and subsequent fry. The light is dimmed. The eggs are hatched a few days later using methylene blue. The fry feed on the yolk sac for the first few days before being introduced to ground brine shrimp. If well fed, the fry grow very quickly and should soon begin to swim actively in the tank.
Fire eel is considered a docile fish that will mostly ignore bigger tank-mates. However, it is a predator and cannot be housed with smaller fish as these may be easily consumed. Best tank-mates should include Oscar fish, Angel fish and Green terror.
The fire eel is a large yet interesting fish for the aquarium. Although it requires a bigger tank as compared to most other fish kinds, it is worth the trouble.