What Do Eels Eat?

Eels are great aquatic creatures whose sedentary lifestyle suits that of an aquarium. The problem is they can be difficult to care for and will only eat when happy with their tank. This has created the idea that eels are very picky eaters who often starve themselves to death in the aquarium setting, driving people away from keeping them.

Fortunately most commonly available eels are easy to feed, take easy to find foods and are a pleasure to feed. For larger eels, which would include the Tesslata Eel, zebra moray and Japanese Dragon Eel you may need to feed multiple times at once, while small eels can take a single piece of food as their whole meal. Acceptable foods are:

  • Frozen Squid
  • Frozen Silverside
  • Live Feeder Fish
  • Mussels
  • Crustaceans
  • Mollusc

While fresh, live foods are often the better choice in aquariums, frozen foods are actually better for eels. Frozen foods have a higher quality diet than feeder fish, giving frozen foods more nutritional value. Frozen foods have a couple other benefits as well.

  • Eels who hunt feeder fish are much more likely to attack tankmates
  • Frozen fish is much easier to keep fresh and in stock
  • If the eel does not eat frozen foods are much easier to remove and reuse.

Eels have very poor eyesight and rely on their sense of smell to find food. Additionally they are nocturnal hunters. This makes feeding at night by holding food in front of them, preferably with water moving past the food towards the eel, the ideal feeding method.

Feeding Types and Frequency

Most eels will only eat once every two or three days, making two or three meals a week a normal amount of food. Despite their large bodies this is enough food for them.

Eels will either have sharp teeth or pebble like teeth. While both types of teeth can eat the same foods, pebble teeth will have an easier time breaking through crustacean shells while razor teeth are better suited for fish and squid.

No matter the Eel type, eels should always be fed a varied diet to keep them healthy.

Keep in mind that when fed eels make a big mess, letting small chunks of food go flying around the tank. Eel tanks will need a large amount of filtration along with a protein skimmer to keep the tanks water parameters in check. Those without adequate filters will have rising nitrates, which will irritate the eel and often make them stop feeding. Be sure to perform plenty of water changes if this happens.

The more frequently you feed an eel the stronger filtration the tank will need. That being said don’t withhold feeding just to save on water changes.

My Eel Won’t Eat!

Most new eels will go anywhere between one and three weeks without eating. Always make sure an eel you plan on getting is eating at the store. Ask to see them fed or when they feed them. If an eel will not eat before it leaves the store it is even less likely to eat after moving to your tank. Likewise ask if the eels will eat frozen foods or how they are generally fed. Places like LiveAquaria are great at sending fish who will willingly accept frozen foods.

If an eel already in your tank, who has been previously eating, stops eating there are a couple things you can try.

  • Adding live shrimp for the eel to hunt
  • Soaking their usual food in garlic oil
  • Feeding right after the lights in the tank go off

Garlic oil is a strong smell that can often entice an eel to at least investigate food. While live foods are not generally recommended they are also good at getting an eels attention. Finally, feeding right after the lights go out is effective as eels like to hunt at night and will look for prey that could be seeking shelter for the night.

Feeding Don’ts

Do not feed an eel by hand, even if you are consistently successful at doing so. By feeding them with your hand you associate your own smell with feeding. Any time your hands go in the tank the eel will be ready to strike, expecting another easy meal. This means if you ever drop something in the tank and try to get it without thinking you can easily be bitten.

Do not feed eels with sharp objects. Metal or even wooden skewers can easily harm an eel if the edge is not hidden or removed. They strike fast and hard, which can move the skewer while its in your hand. This means holding a sharp point into the sand may not be enough as they can strike twice quickly and find the bottom of the skewer. Tongs or a flat ended rod are easy to find tools to feed eels.

Do not simply drop food into the tank. Eels have a difficult time finding their food even when held right in their face. Putting a large piece of food in the tank, only to have it be ignored by your eel will put a huge strain on your tanks water parameters. Always remove any uneaten food, whether its for eels or fish.

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