A natural introvert, the Fire Eel (Mastacembelus erythroataenia), is found dwelling in South-East Asia's shallow, slow moving freshwater riverbeds. In its native country, the fire eel is a food fish, highly prized among the locals. While the Fire Eels shape makes it easy for them to burrow into the riverbed, when they are searching for food, they can be seen swimming through thick vegetation or swimming towards the surface.
Fire Eels are a large species of the spiny eel family. They are named spiny eels because of the spines on their dorsal fins, and their long slender bodies give them an eel-like appearance. Looks can be deceiving, and members of this family are not true eels due to the fact that a true eel will not have spines. Members of the spiny eel family are simply elongated freshwater fish.
With a lifespan of 10 years, a fire eel has the potential to reach 3ft in the wild or more closely to 1.5 ft in captivity. You will need a spacious tank of around 75 gallons or more optimal 125 gallons but can be kept in a smaller aquarium as a juvenile. The larger the aquarium, the happier your fire eel will be. A soft substrate is necessary for this bottom-dwelling fish because its natural behavior is to bury itself in the substrate. Including pieces of driftwood, rock caves, or PVC pipes is recommended for them to hide as well as live aquatic plants. A tight lid is required, as they will often try to escape through the smallest of gaps.
Peaceful but predatory. Fire eels are known to be generally shy creatures and ignore their tankmates as long as they are not small enough to be seen as prey. When choosing tank mates, you look for fast-moving fish or fish similar in size or larger such as cichlids, arowanas, silver dollars. etc. Fire eels are known to show aggression towards other fish in the spiny eel family, so it is not recommended to house more than one in a single aquarium.
Fire Eels are omnivorous and consume tiny bits of plant matter, small fish, insects, and worms in the wild. In captivity, most fire eels are already weaned onto frozen foods like bloodworms. Fire eels are very intelligent and will begin to recognize their owners and beg for food, even being hand-fed at times despite their timid personality.
These snake-like fish are an excellent addition to an aquarium that suits all their needs. It's not very often that you can say such a unique fish is relatively hardy, can be housed with many different fish, and are so interactive with their owners. Fire eels are the total package!