Banded Snake Eel

Harlequin Eel

Family: Ophichthidae Picture of a Banded Snake EelMyrichthys colubrinusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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Do they come up for air? I think I have baby ones in my tank, but they are in a hole in the rock always, do they live there ever?  Lexi

   Don't let this one get lost in the gravel!

The Banded Snake Eel or Harlequin Eel like to bury themselves in the gravel with only their head poking out so don't forget to seek it out and feed it every so often.

For more Information on keeping this fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Myrichthys colubrinus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Anguilliformes
  • Family: Ophichthidae
  • Genus: Myrichthys
  • Species: colubrinus
Banded Snake Eel
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Banded Snake Eel (Myrichthys columbrinus) displaying typical aquarium behavior.

While the Banded Snake Eel does like to bury itself in the sand, it does become quite active once it senses food. As you can see by the way the eel is "sniffing" around, their eye sight is not perfect. The aquarist is feeding the Banded Snake Eel, krill, which is one of the best foods. Feeding in the same spot in your tank is the best bet, since they will learn where to look. They are easy to feed and care for, with the usual demise being a way out of the tank and onto the floor. Please make sure your lid has no openings and feed your eel when you see him out. They generally come out when hungry and will look everywhere, including the carpet for food!

Banded Snake Eel (Myrichthys columbrinus)
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Captive video of a Banded Snake Eels

This video demonstrates how the Banded Snake Eel cannot catch live prey. You can see that he smells something odd, which would be the fresh water feeder shrimp, but cannot zero in on the constant movements of these shrimp. Frustrated, at the end he goes back under the sand. Later, when these shrimp die, he will come back out and eat them. Notice he pays no mind to the slow moving clownfish. Banded Snake Eels are great additions to your tank and should be house with peaceful fish. Feed them thawed silversides and krill, however, they will not eat freeze dried krill. These pieces of food should be the size of their mouth.

Banded Snake Eel Myrichthys colubrinus Harlequin Snake Eel
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Banded Snake Eel in the wild.

As you can see, the searching habits are seen in the wild and in captivity. Notice the face and head. It is not sharp and pointed and the Banded Snake Eel only has blunt teeth on their jaws to grab onto and eat dead fish, including some fish that may have buried themselves in the sand and died, shrimp and worms. They have an insanely keen sense of smell, but poor eyesight and are almost clumsy. This is not a live fish or shrimp eater by any means! They grow up to 34.6" (88 cm) and are fine in a tank with sand, peaceful tank mates, and a tank that is 24" or deeper and at least 4 feet wide. Feed thawed silversides and krill.

Banded or Harlequin Snake Eel, Myrichthys colubrinus
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Newly purchased snake eel

The Banded Snake Eel, also referred to as the Harlequin Snake Eel will grow to just shy of 3 feet. They each have their own tastes when it comes to food, so you need to use trial and error. Some like the thawed krill, some like silversides, some like squid... you get my point. They need to be in a tank that is at least 4 feet long and 24" high so they cannot leverage themselves out of a shallower tank. If you are keeping them in a quarantine tank that is not as deep, keep a rock on the lid so they cannot escape. If you pinky fits, so will their body!

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Maintenance difficulty:

   The Banded Snake Eel or Harlequin Eel is easy to keep. Most eels are very hardy and readily eat all kinds of live and meaty foods.


   Feed all kinds of live fish and meaty foods. Use a poker if necessary at first to place the food right in front of their mouth. Don't worry if it doesn't eat for a while at first, they can go for several weeks without food (and often do).

Habitat: Natural geographic location:

   Banded Snake Eel or Harlequin Eel are found in the Indo-Pacific.


   They feed mainly on small fishes in the wild with an occasional invertebrate. In captivity they have been observed by some to eat only dead fish.

Social Behaviors:

   Sociable and peaceful, can be considered a community fish as long as the tankmates are not small enough to eat!

Sex: Sexual differences:



   Not accomplished in captivity.

Light: Recommended light levels:

   No special requirements.


   No special requirements. Normal temperatures for marine fish is between 74 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Length/Diameter of fish:

   Banded Snake Eel or Harlequin Eel adults can grow to 75 cm (30 inches).

Minimum Tank Length/Size:

   A minimum 60 gallon aquarium is recommended.

Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong

   No special requirements.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom

   Will generally stay in the bottom of the aquarium. Will bury themselves in the gravel with only their heads sticking out.


   This fish is available from time to time.

Author: David Brough. CFS.
Lastest Animal Stories on Banded Snake Eel

Lexi - 2015-03-18
Do they come up for air? I think I have baby ones in my tank, but they are in a hole in the rock always, do they live there ever?

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2015-03-29
    I don't believe they have to come up for air - they get all the oxygen they need from the water. If you have babies, they may stay in the rock until they are bigger and ready to venture out looking for a new place to hang out.
Lakeland - 2011-10-11
My banded snake eel won't eat and I can't put the food front of home cause he is under the sand or swimming away from it

  • Rajashekar - 2014-08-08
    Wow! What a great looking chair you've got Luna! And a great place to keep check on enityrhevg -- without being too obvious! Look forward to checking in on you next week.Sam Schnauzer
Carrie - 2011-08-25
I have owned Myrichthys maculosus. This eel is from the SAME genus. They do NOT like live items. They are carrion eaters and will be quite happy eating thawed silversides (feed according to their size) and any other thawed fish. They like thawed kill as well. The ONLY problem with these fish is they are escape artists. Gravel will harm them. They need a sand bed FREE of sharp objects like crushed coral. They stay under the sand for several days and come out to eat when hungry. If you must hand feed them, do it near the bottom of the tank so they do not associate the top of the tank with food.... which will lead to their escape. If you DO find yours on the ground, put it back in the tank for an hour or so, as they do go into hibernation if exposed to the air too long.

they WILL NOT eat live fish..... their sense of smell is only tuned into DEAD flesh. PERFECT snake eel for the reef!

  • Anonymous - 2011-08-25
    Good to know as many wold believe their little fella had passed. Thank you
japs - 2008-04-08
It's really a cool pet but I am a bit worried because he hasn't eaten yet. I tried to feed him but he ignores the food that I am giving, instead he tries to escape, pretty sneaky. He is already 20 inches long and one finger thick.

  • marco - 2010-04-05
    Yeah it really is cool but it's pretty should put a screen on it with tiny holes just small enough for the air to come in..thats what I their first day in the fish tank,they had managed to escape..I found the one under the cabinet and the other one on the floor..too lucky they didn't die.
  • ron - 2010-12-06
    I'm here in the philippines and I bought one of these eels for US$1.. I'm not sure if they were smuggled that's why they're so cheap.. and..... the vendor told me that they were a harmless banded eel and it was with a small fish together with the eel inside a sealed plastic bag with oxygen when I bought it... it was it's first day tonight.... in my open fish tank with 6 small fishes and 1 hammer head fish...