freshwater eels care guide

Some of the most interesting critters we can keep in an aquarium at home include some animals we wouldn’t typically think of as fish. Like freshwater eels, both large and small freshwater eel species.

One of these unique critters could be the perfect fit for your home fish tank.

We’ll learn a few basic facts about these guys as a whole, and then take a look at the needs of specific choices in our freshwater eel species list.

But let’s ask some questions, too, like “what do freshwater eels eat?” and “how big do eels get?”

Let’s dive in.

Quick Intro to Freshwater Eels

freshwater eels

An eel is in fact a fish – if it’s truly an eel. They belong to the order known as Anguilliformes, which has four suborders, 20 families, and about 800 species of fish.

Eels change drastically through their development stages – starting at larvae until they are eventually adults. Most of them are predators and scavengers.

Author note: The term eel is also used for other eel-like freshwater fish species – which is why we are talking about some of them, as well – that also make for interesting pets.

A few care notes for generalized freshwater eel care:

  • Eels are carnivores, so freshwater eel food is primarily made up of proteins like brine shrimp, bloodworms, worms, and other insects and crustaceans.
  • Freshwater eel size varies significantly from species to species. Be sure to look at the specifics of whatever breed you’re looking at keeping at home.
  • Freshwater eels, whether cold water or tropical eels, have specific water parameters you must keep to care for them properly. Some are much easier to maintain than others – these are recommended for beginners – while others have very precise, challenging needs that should only be attempted by expert fishkeepers.
  • If you’re looking for freshwater snowflake eel care information, you should stop looking. True snowflake eels are not actually freshwater fish and should never be in any kind of tank apart from a true marine tank. The same is true of freshwater moray eel care. They are not freshwater. They are saltwater fish that tend to breed and spawn in freshwater or brackish water.
  • Freshwater eel breeding is generally not possible (Paradise Fish are a better choice) for amateur fish keepers. Even seasoned aquarists have significant challenges with this.
  • Freshwater eel temperature for water also varies from species to species, specifically based on whether the fish is a cold water or tropical eel.
  • Freshwater eels range widely in size, though typically will be between one and three feet in length once they’ve reached maturity.
  • Freshwater eels care is generally overall pretty easy for most beginners. There are some species, however, that should be kept only by long-time fish keepers, however, thanks to the more extensive or specific water condition requirements some have.

Types of Freshwater Eels That Make Great Pets

These are some of the most popular freshwater eel pet options available, at least somewhat readily. You’ll find most available in stores online, but a few you’ll have to go in person to find.

Let’s take a look.

Rubber Eels

freshwater eels
Temperature78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6.5 to 7.2 for juveniles; adults tolerate a more alkaline water of up to 8
Water Hardness5 to 15 gH
Recommended Tank Size10+ gallon tanks for juveniles; 35-55 gallons for adults.
Grows Up to22 inches
Care LevelEasy
Other namesLesser Ceacilian, Sicilian Worm, Rubber Worm, Caecilian Worm, Eel Worm, Worm Fish, Black Worms

Technically, Rubber Eels are not eels at all, but are, in fact, caecilian. These are technically legless amphibians, not fish.

They come originally from Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, where they live in freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams.

They are popular aquarium pets, sometimes sold as “fish” in local pet stores.  They are dark gray to black in color, and they do occasionally breathe air on the surface of the water.

They give birth to young in the water, after about 220 days gestation. They reach full size after about two years.

Rubber eels are almost completely blind, which is a lot of why they scavenge for their feed and tend to leave their tankmates alone. They prefer foods like bloodworms and earthworms for ultimate happiness and health.

Rubber eels can be kept with active, small fish that aren’t known for eating slime coats, since your Rubber Eel definitely has one.

They burrow in the sand, so be sure to use fine sand and fine gravel substrate instead of gravel and provide them with loads of hiding places around the tank. They love caves, driftwood or even PVC tubes.

These guys are super hardy, so they truly make an excellent first “eel” for anyone.

Where to Buy Rubber Eels

Some eels are easier to buy online. Unfortunately, due to the name “Rubber Eel” and the other common names – Rubber worm, worm eel, et cetera – it’s hard to find them. Most searches bring up artificial eels made from rubber materials.

But there is one spot where you can get them: Real Monstrosities. Otherwise, you’ll be best to check your local fishkeeping stores to see if they have any in stock or if you can purchase one – or more – to have shipped to the store.


freshwater eels
Temperature73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6 to 7.5
Water Hardness2 to 15 gH
Recommended Tank Size30+ gallon tanks per juveniles; 55+ gallons per adults.
Grows Up to18 inches
Care LevelEasy
Other namesRope Fish, Snake Fish, African Rope Fish

Reedfish are a species of fish that look like eels, but are technically not true eels either.

They’re commonly called Rope Fish, as well, thanks to the slender looks they’ve got – sort of like ropes with “wings” at the fronts of their bodies, near the head.

The reedfish is a large eel-like fish species that’s docile, friendly, and curious, and won’t mess with your other fish. These are the most popular small eels for aquariums.

In the wild, they can reach up to three feet in length, but in captivity, they’re much shorter, making them easier to keep. They do still need a large aquarium size to thrive however, specially 55+ gallons per reedfish.

They do best with at least one companion – a fellow ropefish – but three will stimulate a higher activity level and give them a way more interesting environment.

Top tip: They’ll be more active – meaning healthier – and more interesting in these small groups of two or three. They’ll hang around the bottom and investigate their surroundings more.

They do well with a decent hiding place or two, and you should expect them to mostly get active at night when they’re looking for food. Only house them with fish too large to fit into their mouths, or you may wake up to a smaller stock next morning.

They also should not be housed with aggressive fish, since they’re so docile. They can be bullied. Also avoid housing them with plecos and similar fish who go after the slime coat of other fish.

Where to Buy Reed Fish

Peacock Eels

Temperature73 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6.5 to 7.5
Water Hardness5 to 15 gH
Recommended Tank Size35+ gallon tanks for juveniles; 55+ gallons for adult peacock eels
Grows Up to12 inches
Care LevelModerate to expert
Other namesSpot-Finned Spiny Eel, Peacock Spiny Eel, Striped Peacock Eel, or Siamese Spiny Eel

Peacock eels are nocturnal eels – and yes, these are actual eels – that live naturally in slow-moving, thickly vegetated habitats.

They live in rivers and still pools in the wild, and they tend to bury themselves in the sand or silty substrate during daylight hours and then come out to feed on worms, small crustaceans, and insect larvae at night.

These guys are extremely sensitive to their water environment and can have major issues if there are water changes.

They’re shy, too, so you may not see changes in behavior a whole lot – which is part of why it’s not recommended that newbie aquarists keep these guys at home.

They need well-oxygenated tanks, with soft water, soft substrate – think fine sand.

And they do great with under gravel filtration systems along with air stones, a canister filter, and similar options that keep the water pumped full of oxygen without giving off too strong a current.

Top tip: Also make sure you’ve got a tightly fitting lid, because these guys like to play like Houdini and escape.

They do best in dimly lit aquariums, so go with floating plants to give them a light diffusion.

Provide them with caves, driftwood roots, potted plants, 3D backgrounds, and other hidey holes. If you can’t find a suitable cave, you can always go with a well placed PVC tube, long enough to function in this manner.

Where to Buy Peacock Eels

Asian Swamp Eels

freshwater eels
Temperature78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6.2 to 8
Water Hardness5 to 25 gH
Recommended Tank Size75+ gallon tanks for juveniles and 180+ gallons for adults
Grows Up to45 inches
Care LevelExpert
Other namesSwamp eel, rice eel, or white ricefield eel

Asian Swamp Eels have been kept for many centuries as eels for food. They were first brought to the United States – it is believed – as a cheap source of food.

They were bred in fish farms, but they eventually came to be considered an invasive species. There are loads of them in Florida and other coastal areas, and they have overrun the waterways.

They’re a large species of freshwater eel that needs a huge amount of space. Unlike other eels – like the Peacock – they need to be able to fully stretch out to their freshwater eel tanks.

That means you need tons of space. They live naturally in rivers and swamps, so they don’t need deep waters, they need long aquariums.

Asian Swamp Eels are aggressive fish and should be kept very carefully by expert level hobbyists and not newcomers to aquariums.

They’re especially aggressive in their youth and will bite, attack, or even kill their tank mates, so it’s best to keep them separated from other fish, especially when young.

These eels also have extremely strong jaws, which can cause serious problems if they do latch onto another fish – or eel.

They are best kept as solo tank dwellers, with a couple of their own kind, or with fish that are at least 10-inches in length, to help avoid bullying.

They are susceptible to fungal infections, so keep a close eye on their bodies to make sure that no odd colorations or spots are popping up.

Like other eels, they need lots of hiding spots. And for food, they’ll need loads of fish.

Live fish, feeder frogs, invertebrates, and small crustaceans and similar live food are their primary diet, though they’ll enjoy earthworms, shrimp, white fish, and bloodworms, as well.

Where to Buy Asian Swamp Eels

Asian swamp eels have become an invasive species in North America, and for this reason, there are strict regulations for selling and purchasing this particular type of eel.

Author note: Most likely, you’ll have to visit a shop in person to be able to purchase one.

Fire Eels

freshwater eels
Temperature73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6.5 to 8
Water Hardness5 to 15 gH
Recommended Tank Size55+ gallons for juveniles and 180+ gallons for adults
Grows Up to40 inches
Care LevelExpert
Other namesN/A

Possibly the prettiest eel, the Fire Eel is a fascinating creature for your eel fish tank.

They are naturally dark bodied with brightly colored accents, usually in reds, oranges, and yellows – thus the name. They sort of look like swimming flares of fire as they make their way through darker waters.

Fire eels are the largest of the spiny eel varieties. They can reach up to three feet in length in the wild, though they usually only hit about 40 inches in captivity. It’s best to prepare for the full length, however, just to be sure.

Fire eels are great community tank fish. They mostly ignore other fish – and don’t perceive them as food – and keep to themselves.

They do need peaceful fish for companions, however, and should not be kept with other fire eels, except during breeding attempts. They can be aggressive towards each other – fighting for territory.

Fire eels are bottom dwellers, so pair them carefully with other bottom dwellers that are larger.

Fire eels tend to bury themselves in the gravel – so be sure to provide them with smooth, subtle gravel or sand. And because they uproot plants a lot, it’s best to use floating plants.

The plants will dim the light in the fish tank, but that’s okay because they prefer darker waters anyhow. They just won’t be well-suited to living with fish or plants that need bright light because of this.

Make sure you provide Fire eels with loads of hiding spots. They love playing “hide and seek” with you and each other and generally prefer to just chill.

Treated driftwood makes a good hiding spot, along with caves, PVC tubes, 3D backgrounds, and décor items designed with holes in them large enough for your large eels to hide inside.

They’re generally very hardy fish, but because of the size and specific requirements, its best that only long-timers keep these guys at home.

But for anyone who does manage to do well with them will be rewarded with being able to hand feed them, as they recognize their owners after some time and will come to the surface to be hand-fed.

As juveniles, they should be fed things like ghost shrimp and bloodworms. After they’ve hit maturity, they’ll do well with night crawlers, black worms, and even vegetables.

Top tip: Fire eels prefer live prey but feeding them veggies will help with their health over time.

Where to Buy Fire Eels

Tire Track Eels

Temperature73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
pH6.5 to 8
Water Hardness5 to 15 gH
Recommended Tank SizeFor young eels, 35+ gallons. For adults, 125+ gallons.
Grows Up to30 inches
Care LevelModerate to expert
Other namesZigzag Eels

Tire Track Eels are naturally a little tentative when they first are introduced to a new freshwater eel aquarium environment.

These long eels are shy, needing loads of sheltering places – caves, large rocks, PVC tubes, 3D backgrounds, et cetera – but they also bury themselves in their soft substrate for both protection and to help reduce their own stress levels.

Make sure you provide both find sand and lots of hiding spots for the best health of your Tire Track Eel.

Once they feel comfortable in their new home, Tire Track Eels will come out to play a bit more.

It could take a couple of weeks before you see them much, but once you do, you’ll be in for the regular pleasure of watching them come and go safely and comfortably.

Just watch out that they don’t get too comfortable and start stealing food from their tank mates.

If you decide to add in more than one Tire Track Eel, make sure you introduce them together or within a month or two of each other.

They’ll become aggressive towards a newcomer otherwise, which won’t go well for anyone. It’s also not a good idea to keep them with smaller fish, as they’ll eat anything that will fit into their mouths.

These are not the most difficult eels to keep but should only be kept at home by someone who’s at least had some experience keeping fish. The parameters they require can be a bit challenging for newcomers to the field.

Keep the lighting dim in their freshwater aquarium and help them feel secure by using some floating plants for both purposes.

Tire Track Eels enjoy black worms, night crawlers, krill, mysis, ocean plankton, Cyclops, and frozen bloodworms.

Top tip: Never feed them flake or pellet food, though, as they will not do well with the grains almost guaranteed to be contained in them.

You’ll also need to make sure you strongly oxygenate their aquariums. They do better than other eels with water movement, but still need to have a moderately high oxygen level at a moderately low flow rate.

Where to Buy Tire Track Eels

Other Freshwater Eels That Can Be Kept as Pets

Besides these eels, there are several other types of freshwater eels and eel-like fish and creatures that are also commonly kept as pets.

They have specific needs, of course, but generally, require the same basic care as the above species of eels.

  • Half-banded Spiny Eels
  • Black Spotted Eels
  • Pink Paddletail Eels
  • African Spiny Eels
  • Electric Eels – not technically eels, but probably the most famous type of eel nonetheless
  • Kuhli Loaches – not technically eels, but eel-like and extremely popular
  • Starlight Spiny Eels
  • Knifefishes
  • American Eels
  • Spaghetti Eels
  • European Eels

3 More Things to Know About Freshwater Aquarium Eels

  1. Many freshwater eels are not eels at all, but eel-shaped fish that fall outside the parameters for technical “eel” species or are legless amphibians.
  2. Eels are fish – a special kind. Specifically, eels are any “ray-finned fish” belonging to the order Anguilliformes.
  3. Even without all the eel-like fish as apart of their ranks, there are still over 400 species of eel.

FAQs About Freshwater Eels

Are freshwater eels suitable for my tank?

It’s essential not to forget eels are known for being aggressive and territorial. So if you put the wrong eel in a mixed tank, there will be violence.

There are some eels known to be peaceful. For example, Tire Track Eels are not known to be aggressive as long as they are kept with friendly tank mates willing to give the Tire Track Eel much-needed breathing room.

But you also need to remember that eels are nocturnal creatures, so most of their activity will be at night time.

During the day, it’s not unusual for them to be resting in the substrate with only their snout sticking out.

They do not like bright lights and will be more active in your tank that has dim lights.

What are good tankmates for eels?

As mentioned, some species of eels do not do well with tankmates. The rest of the eels do well when placed in a community aquarium or a species-only tank with other eels.

When choosing tankmates for your eel, you must make sure you don’t pick small fish (they’ll look like a snack to your eels!). Go with larger fish that won’t look as appetizing.

It’s also essential not to house eels with crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, or small fish. They will be preyed upon by the eels.

Another consideration is that some eels can’t live with other eels once they reach adulthood.

So make sure you purchase tanks big enough to accommodate eels when they are fully grown and can have their personal space.

About The Author

2 thoughts on “6 Types of Freshwater Eels and How To Care For Them: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide”

  1. Well my fire eels gotten to about 18 to 20″ in a 75 gallon tank We’re getting ready to go up to a 150 gallon tank never get external filter With a 150 gallons we’re getting it with a sump filter the external filter he, she keeps knocking off and flooding my carpet,!!

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