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Tiretrack Eel

Mastacembelus armatus



    The Tiretrack Eel is the largest of the spiny eels available in the hobby. Although they look like eels, they in fact are not. Instead they are fish that have developed an eel-like profile in order to hunt more effectively. They are very personable, friendly fish which will interact readily with their owners and can be great fun to keep.
Quick Stats

    Listed tank sizes are the minimum
    Size: Up to 36in (91cm)
    Tank: 150 gallon minimum, larger is better
    Strata: Bottom
    PH: 6.5 to 7.5
    Hardness: Medium to hard. dH range: to 15
    Temperature: 72 to 81°F(22 to 27°C)


    Family: Mastacembelidae
    Order: Synbranchiformes
    Class: Actinopterygii
    Genera: Mastacemelus
    Species: armatus


Scientific Name:

    Mastacembelus armatus


    China, Sumatra, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand

Common Names:

    Tiretrack Eel,, White Spotted Spiny Eel, Marbled Spiny Eel, Zigzag Eel

Image gallery:

    Additional species photographs


    Badmans' Forum

General Characteristics:

Tiretracks, like all spiny eels, are mainly nocturnal, spending most of the day buried in the gravel, or another dark protected space, with only their heads exposed. This makes them hard to spot in an aquarium, particularly if using a dark coloured substrate. They are also master escape artists, being quite capable of climbing out of the water and through any holes in tank lids big enough for them to get through. They are also considered to be very intelligent, certainly on a par with the larger cichlids, and can grow to be very friendly to the person from whom the food comes. Tiretracks will occasionally snack on smaller tankmates, but this is an uncommon occurrence.

When small, they do tend to be skittish and easily scared, but this soon changes as they grow and get used to their owners. They are also extremely hardy fish once they reach around 7 or 8", but they can be sensitive to water conditions when smaller. When young, Tiretracks can be badly effected by the stress of moving, so if you are looking to buy one, itís a good idea to make sure it has been at the fish store for a minimum of a week before taking it home.

Aquarium Setup:

Tiretrack Eels grow to a considerable size and although they are not constant swimmers, they do require a lot of tank space, 150 gallons(570litres) or bigger. As they spend most of their time buried in the substrate, the substrate needs to be rounded with no sharp edges that could cause injuries. Sand is sometimes used in tanks with Tiretracks, but they seem to prefer very fine gravel, as this is easier for them to burrow into than sand. A tank for a Tiretrack eel needs to have enough open substrate for them to have several places to choose from to hide. Rock piles and lots of plants are also appreciated as they give cover when the eel comes out at night to hunt. Many people have had success with burying narrow flexible plastic pipes below the substrate for the eel to use as a hiding place. This has the added bonus of helping you find your eel much more easily than trying to spot the nose poking up above the gravel.

In their natural habitat, Tiretrack eels inhabit slow moving rivers and lakes, often being found close to a rocky shoreline that provides good cover for hunting. They live at a pH of around 7 in the wild, but can adapt to conditions with a pH as high as 8. Care should be taken with younger fish, though as they are not as tolerant as adults are.



In the wild, Tiretracks live on small crustaceans, varieties of worms and small fish. In a tank, they often prefer live food, but can be induced to eat frozen bloodworms, glass worms, krill and daphnia, to name a few. Live earthworms are eaten with great relish, mealworms are sometimes accepted, but it depends on the fish. My 13" eel refuses mealworms at all times, but can eat a phenomenal amount of earthworms if given the chance. Live maggots are also enjoyed if you can stomach breeding them. I use chicken fillet to get the eggs laid, then slice the eggs off the fillet with a very thin piece of the chicken and put them into a plastic container with some grass and put that into a warm place. It usually takes 3 to 4 days for them to hatch and using grass, there is none of the smell of rotting meat that is usually associated with maggots. As they are sometime predators, they are not safe to keep in community tanks with small fish such as neon tetras. Hunting occurs at night, and is done by ambush, waiting until a fish comes close enough to where the eel is buried then shooting out to grab the prey.

It is very easy to train Tiretracks to be fed by hand, which can be useful when kept in a tank with larger fish that also appreciate the same kinds of food. They are very curious and friendly once they get used to their surroundings, and have been known to come out and sit in their owner's hand to be fed. They do not need to be fed on a daily basis, even when small, as they do not waste their energy doing a lot of swimming. Once every two days is usually sufficient for fish up to around 7", and as they grow larger, they can often go a week or more without eating.


Tiretrack eels are not suitable tankmates for small fish, but they do well with medium size cichlids then smaller, and larger fish as they grow. They are not tolerant of others of their own species or of other eels, but have a tendency to ignore most other fish. They are relatively peaceful, except towards their own, and don't constitute a threat to fish that are not large enough for them to eat.


There is no way to tell the difference between the sexes in Tiretrack Eels, and not much is known about their breeding habits in the wild. To date, there have been no reports of Tiretracks being bred in aquariums.

Personal Experience:

have had a Tiretrack Eel for a little over two years now, from when he was around 5". He is now 13" and very friendly. When he was smaller, he spent a lot of time hiding in various places around the tank, from caves to inside pieces of driftwood, but he would always come out to be fed. Hand feeding him is great fun and a real talking point for friends that have seen me do it. My Tiretrack has lived with firemouths, Oscars, clown loaches, my clown knife fish and various catfish with very few aggression problems at all. Tiretracks are beautiful fish and well worth the hours spent digging worms in the garden. They do require a fair amount of work in feeding, but if you are prepared to put in the time and effort, they make a great addition to a large tank.

Your comments:


Please remember that the following comments are personal experiences and may or may not apply to your setup. Use them as guide to help better understand your fish, like us all individuals will behave differently under different circumstances.


From: Emily
I love my Tire Track Eel (Slick). He's absolutely amazing and I haven't had any issues with him being aggressive toward the other fish in the tank that are significantly smaller than he is. I have a ropefish, 2 African butterfly fish, a couple of Congo tetras, a giant danio, a red tail botia, skunk loach, yo-yo loach, upside down catfish, an angel fish, and a turquoise rainbow in a 75. Everyone is pretty much full grown and the eel tops out at 18". I've had "him" for almost 6 years and he eats 3 night crawlers every other day. I could not ask for a cooler fish with a better personality. He does like to move my Mopani wood, decorations and plants around which can get frustrating at times, especially when he flips over the ropefish's hideout. I am in the process of constructing a new hideout for him as I dropped the other one and it has some jagged edges. Hopefully a 4" piece of PVC pipe will work!
From: Jason
I have a 1 year old tire track eel. Started out at about 6 inches and can eat 5 superworms a night if ill feed them to him. He's currently 16 inches long. I ended up using those 4 inch black y pvc pipes and burying them in the gravel and covering them all up with drift wood. Lots of places to hide but no fear of my structure falling down. He has 2 Texas cichlids a pike cichlid and a clown knife as tank mates. Smallest fish in the tank is 6 inches but he is awesome to watch. Starting to work on feeding with tweezers and getting used to hands in the tank to start hand feeding.
From: Danny
I have had my eel for going on 3 months. I had no clue as to what I was getting myself into when I purchased him(yes I made it a make whether I'm right or wrong). He its currently overly happy in his tiny ten gallon, but at only six inches, I don't think he minds yet. He has claimed a flower Val and occasionally joins my Raphael cat in his log(yes the Raphael is a boy because my six year old says so.). He is with eight other fish only because I'm in the process of getting the big tank cycled. He doesn't bother anyone, but he its definitely showing signs of "this mine, oh that's mine, oh bubbles, no those are mine too". My favorite fish so far, easy to care for, eats like a starving child.
From: Bill
I also am named Bill and have a 7" tire track eel that was there first and 3 leleupies and I have the same situation. They are in a mixed Cichlid tank (55 gallon) with 14 fish (counting the eel too) and some bottom feeders. The eel and the lelleupies give each other heck all the time. The rest of the tank is peaceful. I have watched this for several months and no real damage seems to be occurring to either species. I see no marks, etc. So I let it continue and while there still seems to be a little of it, it seems to be lessening and everyone is still very healthy. It seems like the leleupies mostly attack the eel. My theory is that the eel originally thought he might eat the leleupies since they were just over an inch when I bought them and he failed to realize what a formidable fish they are. They are very quick and can open their mouths extremely wide for their size. Also, they have a tooth that sticks out the front they can use as a gouge not to mention the really full set of teeth inside. My theory is that the leleupies are just constantly giving him heck because at one time he tried to eat them. After months, they leleupies are realizing that they can't damage the eel and are lessening their efforts.
From: Ryan
I have a foot-long tiretrack eel. Paid $20 for him about 3 months ago and he (I decided it's a he) is very peaceful. I have a planted 38 Amazonian with 4 discus (red scribble, a flachen, 2 pigeon blood), 2 panda corydoras, a balzani geophagus and 3 plecos (8" sunshine, 4 inch chocolate bristlenose, 3" regular). He is very peaceful and does not bother any of my fish. He eats about a dozen rosy reds a week (he also ate 2 small krib cichlids, much to my dismay) he swims around regularly and loves to hide in my driftwood and rocks. Although he is Asiatic (I should've gotten a fire eel for habitat continuity), I think he is a wonderful addition to my tank and definitely one of my all-time aquarium favorites. He has never tried to escape, although he does try to swim into the output for my canister filter at times, haha.
From: Bill
I have a tire track in a mixed Cichlid 55 gallon tank and there are 3 Neolamprologus lelupi's. Lately, the lelui's and the eel have had constant sparing matches. I have 2 other tanks so I am figuring out where to move the eel or the lelupies, but this is one species that they don't apparently get along with. The eel was there first and the lelupies were purchased at about 1' about 3 months ago. The eel is about 7" now and the lelupies are between 2" and 1.7".
From: Rebecca
I have had my tire track eel for about 5 years now and is my favorite fish in the tank. He is full of personality! He watches for me; hiding behind some driftwood with only his head sticking out. When he sees me, he starts swimming around the tank waiting to be fed. He is about 8in and lives in a 90 gal tank with some rainbow fish and a couple of other peaceful fish. Has never given me any trouble and is fun to watch.
From: Mandi
I bought my tire track back in October. He was 4 inches and is about 5 or 6 inches now. He lives with medium sized mixed cichlids and doesn't seem to mind them. In fact, he frequently swims with the school when I approach the tank. He is semi skittish, but seems to be growing out of it a bit. A real joy to have as an addition to my cichlid tank.
From: Bob
I had a tiretrack eel for about four months when I first got my aquarium. The eel jumped into my filter though multiple times and by the third time died in the filter. If you want an eel make sure you have a very small space between your hood and the opening of your filter.
From: John
I have an 8" Tire Track Eel. He shares space with a Striped Rafiel Cat, a Pictus Cat, 5 green tigers, and some mystery snails. The only problem I've had is when the very excitable pictus cat decides to swim circles around the driftwood claimed by the eel and gets bit for the trouble!
From: Hyla
I have 3 tire track eels in the same tank. They have been together for a while and two are quite large. They get along fine, I have never had a problem with them towards each other. I also feed them individually. The largest one gets his three earthworms first, then the medium size one gets fed. And last the smaller one.




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