The Spotted Snake Eels

Animal-World’s Newest Featured Animals are: The Amazing Spotted Snake Eels!

Out of all the salt-water fish I have ever owned, I have to say the Snake Eels of the Myrichthys genus have always been my favorites! Watching them bury under the sand, leaving just their head sticking out, is the funkiest thing you’ll ever see. But the coolest part of owning them is that they will eat silversides right from your hand! And if they accidentally grab your finger, it never hurts becuase they grab and swallow their prey rather than biting it.

I will refer to these as Spotted Snake Eels, because, well they are spotted! Two similar species are the Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel Myrichthys maculosus and the Magnificent Snake Eel Myrichthys magnificus, and these two are similar in care as well. Both are a creamy off white with large brown spots all over their bodies. But the Magnificent Snake Eel is a light tan color with large brown spots while the Tiger Snake Eel seems to be more of a creamy white and with slightly smaller dark brown spots.

Spotted Snake Eel Myrichthys maculosus in nature. Photo Wiki Commons, Couresty Qwertzy2 Licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

In the wild Snake Eels are very friendly to divers, readily coming up to them and investigating. The Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel is found in the Indo-Pacific and the Magnificent Snake Eel is found in the Eastern Central Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands. So if you were diving there on vacation, you may very well have seen this eel.

Many retailers and people confuse the Spotted Snake Eels with the Sharptail Snake Eel Myrichthys breviceps, which is nowhere near as attractive. The Spotted ones can be readily distinguished because the spots on their faces are also large, unlike the tiny dots you will find on the Sharptail Snake Eel. Another member, the Banded Snake Eel Myrichthys columbrinus, is banded in black and white, but is also similar in care.

Spotted Snake Eels make great pets!

I own the Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel M. maculosus. Of course we named ours “Spot” because well, what else are you going to name one? This eel is great at stirring the sand bed and as a juvenile it came out every day to eat, although as an adult it only comes out every other day to eat. When it comes out to eat it will swim around the tank, which either elates or scares whoever is visiting our home at the time!

Although they are said to be hard to feed, personally I have never had one refuse thawed frozen krill or silversides. I feed 2 or 3 skinny silversides at a time, or until it is full, and then they’re good to go! After filling their bellies, they will bury themselves under the sand until they get hungry again.

The Spotted Snake Eels will grow up to about 30″ (78 cm) in length, but the girth of their body is similar to the girth of your thumb. Due to their skinny girth, they do not produce as much waste as a full-bodied eel of the same length. Consequently they are not as sensitive to water conditions as butterflyfish or angelfish types, which adds to the joy of owning one.

The most difficult thing about their care is that they are incredible escape artists, making Houdini look like an idiot! The one thing to be aware of is tank decor and equipment that offers any type of escape. If you can stick your finger in a hole, such as in some water pumps, the Spotted Snake Eel will more than likely be able to go through as well. The worst thing they will do in a reef tank is knock a coral over, but most aquarists know how to secure corals. My Snake Eel has never ever gone after any of my fish, and has not bothered any invertebrates.

Finding a Spotted Snake Eel will take some work and they are not cheap. But if you have a tank that has a tight fitting lid and are willing to make sure they are fed daily or every other day when adults, then go for it! With any of the Myrichthys species you will enjoy the oddity of their behavior, and a pet like quality that differs from the typical saltwater fish!

Spotted Snake Eel Myrichthys maculosus in the aquarium

Tips for housing Spotted Snake Eels in the saltwater aquarium

A tank that is at least 4 feet or longer is best for these thin elongated fish. They are great with normal tropical water temperatures and pH and they are not picky about any light or water movement. It is obvious by their burrowing habits that a sand bed is needed. Larger, more abrasive substrates such as crushed coral may lacerate their skin. Mine have always done well with 2″ of sand.

Be sure you have the aquarium covered with a very tight fitting lid. To prevent escape you must be able to seal off the top of the tank with only enough room for tubing to fit. Egg crate lids will not work as these eels can wiggle right through them as juveniles and young adults. They will come out looking for food and if they find a hole, will wiggle right through it and out of the tank!

The best tank is one that is completely sealed on top with an overflow. Make sure they cannot go over the edge of the over flow, because they will! The teeth or grating of the overflow at the top should reach and meet the lid, with no gaps. Most saltwater tanks are open on top because of the need for air exchange at the surface. When keeping a Spotted Snake Eel, you can add oxygen into the tank by adding an air pump and using fittings that make large bubbles instead. It is a little messier, but then what saltwater tank isn’t a little messy anyway?

If you have a pump that has any open holes at the bottom or sides, then it is just a matter of time before the eel will wiggle into it. It can get killed that way. Sicce Voyager pumps are better than Hydora Korolia pumps to use with these eels because they do not have any open holes that an eel can wiggle into.

Tips for feeding Spotted Snake Eels

As far as feeding them, it has been observed that they are very smart and will look for food in the same spot each time! My first Spotted Snake Eel I had when I was a noob saltwater tank owner. I hand fed it at the top of the water. So one day we came home and Spot was dried up on the floor. He was probably popping his head out of the water looking for food and jetted himself right out and over! My next Spotted Snake Eel, which I obtained years later, is fed at the bottom of the tank in a little rock opening. Consequently he only goes there in search of food.

Health Tips for Spotted Snake Eels

Spotted Snake Eels are disease resistant, but with no scales, so don’t treat their tank with any copper medications. If it should happen that you find your seemingly “dead” snake eel out of its tank, do NOT assume it is dead. Put it back in the tank for at least an hour. They have a defense mechanism that protects them from exposure to air for several hours. I learned this the hard way!

Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.

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