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Gymnothorax tile
Snowflake Eel, Freshwater Moray Eel

 Age of Aquariums > Freshwater Fish > Other Groups > Snowflake Eel - Gymnothorax tile

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Gymnothorax_tile_1.jpg (44kb)
Photo Credit: Kazie

Name: Gymnothorax tile
Size TankpHTemp
Origin: Philippines, Indonesia
90 cm 300 L 8.0 27C


Gymnothorax tile is victim of many myths and factoids. The most prominent myth is this is a freshwater moray. Sadly no, this is a brackish water fish residing in the sounds and outlets of east Asian river systems. Another misleading statement is that this fish doesn't handle full fresh water at all, or cannot be kept in it for any length of time. Though not advisable, my current Moray has been in freshwater for 2 years with no complications resulting from freshwater living conditions. Another misnomer is that this is a friendly though predatory fish. Gymnothorax tile is extremely unpredictable, each fish has a personality. On top of that they are very sensitive to their environment in and out of the tank. Changes in weather, lighting, tank arrangement, diet, water and temperature will all drastically effect the Eels behavior.

The Brackish Debate
"This fish's immune system weakens in fresh water" This is often a misleading and ironic statement, though not completely unwarranted. The main weakness in the G. tile is its generally weak immune system. In the wild the way it deals with this is thought to be by visiting fresh and salt water to remove the respective parasites. So you can see how it is kind of true that the fish is like a car without wheels in fresh water. On top of that it doesn't handle most parasite medications at all.

People often argue that, "A new G. tile won't start eating because it's in a fresh water tank." It probably won't eat because it is a very and I mean very sensitive fish, it's body can handle a lot but they seem to stress very easily. Imagine a wild caught specimen that was flown half way around the world then dumped into a miserable LFS aquarium full of disease and parasites it can't escape. Then it gets relocated again to different lighting and tank temp probably too low to jump start them out of their state of shock. When I look at the situation most of these poor fish found themselves in, it wasn't fresh water that ever killed them. Just ignorance, and a plain bad situation. To stimulate eating I added fresh water aquarium salt, warmed the tank to 27-28C and tried offering a large selection of food with the lights in the tank and the room off, or dimmed.

My Experiences
Since I started keeping these fish before you could find them in Google I'll start at the beginning. Four years ago I purchased my first fresh water Moray, it was a misguided purchase. I was told a lot of lies by the LFS regarding the Eel and recommended care. Despite all the things I did wrong (water quality, lighting, temp, diet), it endured half a year, finally dying from a combination of Ich and other diseases that were brought in by other fish.

The second Eel was a Christmas present 2 years ago at a respectable 20 cm. I decided to make the best of it: it was placed in a 410 liter cichlid aquarium with 3 Mono's (also gifts) and an assortment of previously owned African Cichlids, catfish, a ropefish and a friendly little 5 cm zebra loach. The tank was very densely packed with rocks all the way to the top, lots of caves. It took up residence in the largest cave that ran under several of the base rocks in the structure. This cave belonged to my dominant tetracanthus. He tended to share this with non cichlid fish including my rope fish, zebra loach, and now the eel. For the first month I didn't see it eat, actually I didn't see much more than a nostril or tip of a tail every couple days. At night I would drop in an assortment of meaty foods, diced raw fish, cocktail shrimp, freeze dried shrimp, and shrimp pellets, all in the hopes that it would find something it liked. The ropefish loved this, it was plump as a bichir. When the eel would pop up I noted its body mass and looked for lumps of food in its slender shape, seeing them on occasion let me know it was eating. Not 2 months into its stay and the heater in the tank shorted, overheating and melting the plastic suction cups, mixing the toxic fumes into the tank. Half my cichlids died, including the tetracanthus, and still the Eel persisted.

Following the death of the tetracathus my Ctenochromis horei became the new boss in town, but my Eel wouldn't have any of it. It was still well tempered with the other fish, including the Ropefish and the Zebra Loach that shared its cave. That was until the Horei tried to move in on that cave, then it was on. The Horei had everyone in that tank running in his bid to show dominance. But not the Eel, it didn't just stand its ground, it chased him, only him. It never caused injury, just harassed the heck out of the most boisterous fish in the tank. This behavior lasted about a year until I changed the arrangement. Despite my better study of how to meet its needs, several of the webpages I would later find so amazingly helpful were not online. I had gotten it on a varied diet in a tank with hard water, pH 9 (out of the tap), sometimes raising salinity a little with aquarium salt but only briefly, every 6 months or so. Its tank mates never seemed to mind, they all maintained phenomenal color and my Eel was growing. After the rearrangement the eel retreated to a 30 cm conch and so did the rope and loach. Watching the three faces in a row peering out was quite charming. They waited and didn't move until feeding, the Eel took a back seat to aquarium politics, letting the Horei rampage around trying so desperately to catch the Monos.

Another rearrangement and I removed all caves, leaving only the conch and adding a 30 cm lightning whelk with very tall vertical stones. The lack of caves suited my now full grown cichlids who couldn't fit anymore anyways. The Eel seemed to like it for a while, switching between the conch and a large piece of porous Texas rock only it could fit into. Then early this fall it got funny, stopped hiding and instead wrapped around the heater, often franticly swimming up and down the glass for hours in mid day light. It kept eating for a bit, so I thought it might be the weather. It'd done this the previous fall when the temp was dropping a lot and it would start to rain or snow. Then it stopped eating, I was freaking out, I jumped online seeing if any new posts or sites could help, didn't find any on the first pass. Tried spiking salinity, nothing. Frequent water changes, nothing. Then the internet came to my rescue, finding a recommendation that these guys will do this if the temp in the water isn't right. In passing the Temp looked fine, but under closer scrutiny the temp had dropped over 2C and was 23C. Eventually I figured out my roommate had unplugged my second heater, causing my one to fight so hard to maintain temp (my house is only 16C). Following instructions I spiked the temp to 29C over several days, slowly letting settle in the 27-28C range and, let me tell you, I've never seen a hungrier fish. It is almost sad to watch my guy eat. It's back to normal, chilling on the bottom of the tank, actually eyeing the lighting whelk.

All in all a great fish to have. I would recommend to anyone who can provide for them. If you do feel set on the fresh water experience (and some fish keepers are) do keep them in a large tank, they get big can be very territorial, and enjoy the more stable water quality of a large tank. These fish must be kept with tank mates who went through a stringent quarantine and match up well with the personality of your specific Eel. They are very tough when it comes to short term water quality fluctuations, but treating disease on them is a losing battle since they qualify as a scaleless fish. Though I've kept mine in fresh water I wouldn't recommend it to anyone since disease is a large part of fish keeping and fresh doesn't really work for G. tile. All I can say is that because of this fish I know the next tank I make will be a large brackish aquarium.

Contributed by Kazie

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