What's Black, White, and Fishy All Over? The Zebra Eel

A Coiled Zebra Eel

Image: bluegrassaquatics.com

People who don’t have any experience with eels seem to think that they’re a lot to handle. After all, they look like snakes and snakes are dangerous, poisonous predators — so eels must be dangerous too, right? Well, not unless you’re three inches long and have gills. People are frequently cautious of eels because of their physical similarity to snakes, but at the same time that’s much of their allure. Their long, slender bodies can add a bit of thrilling exoticism to your aquarium. Of course, you can’t just pick up the eel with the prettiest coloration, plop it in your tank, and expect everything to go smoothly. Like everything else with the aquarium hobby, you need to plan your ecosystem.

That’s why I’m suggesting the zebra eel as a possible choice for prospective eel owners. They’ll actually be one of the easiest fish to care for in your whole aquarium, assuming that you make all of the necessary preparations.

A Zebra Eel Emerging from its Hole

Image: christinaspets.com


The zebra eel has a distinct black and white stripe coloration that looks like the stripes of a zebra (surprise surprise). The coloration extends through its head, which can make it difficult to identify the creature’s face. One thing that’s fairly unique about zebra eels is their impressive musculature. Other eels are slender, a bit like a ribbon. Zebra eels are fatter and rounder because of all that bulk, and I’ll explain why that is a bit further down.

The Stripes Give Away a Zebra Eel Immediately

Image: flora.ps

The Species

The zebra eel is really a rather docile animal. It will spend most of its time hiding (so include lots of hidey holes) and won’t venture out much until it feels comfortable in its new environment. And when it does finally leave its home — watch out. Its long body and powerful muscles has earned it a reputation as a “clumsy” fish. It will knock over rock structures and can easily dislodge a coral. For this reason, you should only think about acquiring a zebra eel if you have a large tank with very solid rock structures.

Caring For Your Zebra Fish

Think of your zebra eel as a shy football player. Give your zebra eel plenty of safe places to hide and create an environment that can withstand being tackled by a 34″ adult moray eel.


Zebra eels exclusively eat crustaceans, which is one of the reasons why they’re a great match for other aquariums. You can add one of these striped beauties to your aquarium without constantly having to worry about it chomping down on any of your $300 fish. Its love of crustacean means that you’re going to need to go the extra mile for feeding. You may need to feed it live crustaceans, such as crabs, shrimps, and snails, before making the transition to other food sources.

A Zebra Eel eating a Crab

Image: damontucker.com

The zebra eel has an odd eating style that is in and of itself a spectacle. A zebra eel will bump a creature to see if it moves, and then bite into it with its special crustacean-crushing jaws. Smaller crustaceans might be swallowed whole, but bigger creatures need a bit of work. Remember that muscular body I mentioned earlier? Zebra eels will push down on a crustacean and coil its body to keep the crustacean in place. Then, it will bite off the individual legs and claws of a crustacean so that it can’t escape. It’s kind of like being drawn and quartered.

Zebra eel owners can expect to hear a sharp crack as the eel chows down on its crunchy prey. The sound is akin to a nutcracker, and it can frequently be heard from several rooms away. Talk about a noisy eater!


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