Species name: Mastacembelus armatus
Common name: Tiretrack eel, marbled eel, zigzag eel, spiny eel
Maximum size: 36 inches (90cm)
Environment: Freshwater. Can tolerate brackish short term, but freshwater is ideal.
Origin: Southeast Asia
Temperament: Semi-aggressive when settled in.
Company: Fish too large to be eaten whole are generally safe. Its small size allows for many species to do well with this eel. However, it can become somewhat nippy even to fish too large to be eaten when it is not kept well fed. Fish that will bother the eel should be avoided. This includes aggressive cichlids and territorial bottom feeders.
Water parameters: pH: 6.5-7.5 ideal. Temperature: 72-83 Fahrenheit (22-28 Celsius).
Aquarium setup: A large tank with ample bottom area is needed for this large and somewhat active species. Many hides will be greatly appreciated. Stable rock piles, driftwood, PVC connectors and other things can fulfill this need. A tight-fitting cover is a must as this species will find and exploit even the smallest escape opportunities.
Tiretrack eel feeding: Naturally a carnivore feeding on many small invertebrates and small vertebrates, this species will accept an array of meaty foods. Some may need to be started on live foods such as black worms. Getting them on to a high quality pellet should be the goal. Live foods can introduce pathogens, increase aggression, and are nutritionally incomplete. Frozen foods may need to be an intermediate food during transition. Feeding from a bowl can help with transitioning them over to pellets.
Tiretrack eel breeding: Completely unknown except that they are egg-layers. Most likely the usual triggers that simulate the natural onset of the rainy season would be needed (decrease in temperature, change in photoperiod, increase food supply, etc.). Sexing is unknown. Females most likely plumper than males and may be larger.
I have had my tiretrack eel for about 9 months as of the writing of this article. I got it at about 6” and it is now about 20”. I never fed anything but New Life Spectrum out of a bowl. Mine has become somewhat nippy lately. It seems to not be too bad if I keep the tank well fed. I have found bite marks (unique mouth shape makes identifying the perpetrator easy) on spotted silver dollars, Synodontis eupterus, and even 3-5” Oscars. I have had unknown deaths that had been scavenged and discolored too much to tell if the tiretrack eel was at all to blame. I believe the eel had something to do with at least some of them.
This seems to be a somewhat intelligent species. It is highly reactive to the keeper. I used an under gravel filter riser tube to put the sinking pellets in the feeding bowl. It would be the first to the bowl (even before the food was in the water). I would wait for all the food to get to the bottom before lifting the tube, releasing the food into the bowl. It would stick its thin snout under the end of the tube and tap the tube up, releasing pellets that it would quickly suck up.
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