Tire track eel is a species of spiny eels native to the freshwater of Southeast Asia.

Its elongated body, dark irregular pattern from the head to tail, and overall snake-like appearance make it an attractive member of community tanks.

However, tire track eels have a reputation of being difficult to keep. That is not necessarily the case. We have compiled this guide to tell you everything you need to know about the care and upkeep of these freshwater eels.


Scientific Name: Mastacembelus armatus
Other Names: Tire track eel
Habitat: Freshwater of Southeast Asia
Temperament: Sensitive and shy
Behavior: Submissive, non-aggressive
Diet: Omnivores, hard to feed
Lifespan: 8 to 18 years
Max Size: 20 inches in the tank
Water conditions: Temperature: between 72 and 82 F; pH 6.8-7.2
Tank size: 70 to 75 gallons

How Big Can a Tire Track Eel Grow: Stats

Tire track eel size is dependent on a variety of factors. It is larger in the wild, but its growth is limited in captivity. Because of its elongated form, the tire track eel is categorized as a large fish, but it is smaller than other eel fish in the family.

You should be mindful of not confusing it with its cousin zig zag eel, which can grow a lot bigger than tire track eel.

– Maximum Size in Captivity

The maximum size of a full-grown tire track eel is 26 inches in captivity, though it will normally not grow more than 20 inches in the tank.

Tire track eel is a large fish, and while you may get little fry of no more than 4 inches, to begin with, they can easily grow up to 36 inches in the wild. Their growth in captivity is a minimum of 10 inches less than their growth in the wild because of differences in lifestyle, feed, and space to move about.

You don’t need to worry about them getting too big in your community tank, but if you want them to reach their full potential in captivity, you must arrange for a large tank, optimum living conditions, and a nutritious diet.

– Factors That Affect the Growth of Tire Track Eels

Tire track eel’s growth depends on different factors such as genetics, diet, age, and other living conditions, out of which diet is the most important.

Feeding tire track eels can prove to be a nuisance for aquarium hobbyists. If they do not eat well, they will not grow well. Therefore, trial and error with food is necessary. Observe the reaction of your tire track eel with different foods and provide it with the most of what it likes best.

– How Long Does It Take for Tire Track Eel To Grow?

The growth rate of tire track eels varies based on different living conditions, but they tend to take their sweet time. These freshwater eels do not grow rapidly. Their average growth rate is approximately 0.5 to 1 inch per month.

As your tire track eel grows, the size of its body will change only subtly, so you might not notice that your eel has grown at all until it is no longer a 4-inch fry you just bought!

– Tire Track Eel Lifespan

The lifespan of tire track eel ranges from being as short as 8 years to as long as 18 years. Like their growth, their life expectancy is variable because it depends on their health and living conditions.

Although tire track eels are not burdensome to keep, they demand a certain level of expertise from aquarium hobbyists. This is because tire track eels are shy and sensitive to changes in their environments. They are also hard to feed. Hence, it is not easy to care for a tire track eel.

Therefore, you should only add this species o your community aquarium if you have prior fishkeeping experience. Beginners are not encouraged to adopt these freshwater eels as their first fish.

Setting Up a Tank: Specifications

Setting up a tank for tire track eels is easy, and maintaining the aquarium does not require much effort. However, if the living conditions for the eels are not ideal, you run the risk of their health being compromised.

– Water Conditions

Tire track eels are freshwater fish found in moderately warm, neutral water. The best tank setup for these eels closely replicates the water conditions of their natural habitat. Therefore, the temperature of their tank’s water should be maintained between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, while pH should not drop below 6.8 or go beyond 7.2. Tire track eels also require medium hard water conditions, ideally between 10 and 16 dH.

– Suitable Tank Size

Tire track eels are large fish that can grow up to 26 inches in captivity. Hence, an expansive tank is required to keep them. A full-grown fish will require an aquarium with a minimum volume of 50 gallons. Preferably, this species should be kept in a tank of 70 to 75 gallons, if not larger.

If you plan on keeping more than one tire track eel in an aquarium, you should double the size of their tank. This is because these freshwater eels love their space and will not fare well if they have to compete for it with others of their own kind.

– What To Add to the Tank?

Tire track eels are lurkers who love to burrow and forage in the substrate. This is an important characteristic to keep in mind when setting up an aquarium. Otherwise, a lack of spaces to hide in at the bottom of the tank will compromise the comfort of your tire track eels.

You can set up an ideal aquarium for these freshwater eels by adding a thick layer of soft substrate made up of sand or gravel to the tank.

You should also add rocks and caves to the aquarium to provide your tire track eels with ample places to hide in.

Apart from soft substrate, you can put aquarium plants to imitate the environment of their natural habitat. We do not recommend populating your tank with a lot of plants as these species tend to uproot them while burrowing, leading to a messy tank.

We recommend floating plants which keep the water fresh and clean while also staying out of the eels’ way. Since tire track eels are nocturnal animals, you will have to keep the tank dark and lighting to the minimum.  Floating plants will help you subdue the light and achieve that effect.

Community Aquarium and Tank Mates

Tire track eels are not exactly timid, but they are definitely sensitive and shy.

If you pick the right tank mates for your eels, you can keep them in community tanks and expect them to get along fairly well.

– Ideal Tank Mates

Ideal tank mates for tire track eels are medium to large fish that share their submissive, non-aggressive nature. They will not pick fights or intimidate their tank mates. But since they are meat-loving omnivores, they will readily consume small fish, so they should not be housed together with fish small enough to be eaten.

The ideal tank mates for tire track eels are similarly sized fish that will neither prey on them nor be preyed upon by the eels.

Tire track fish are compatible with most types of fish, given that they are not so small that these freshwater eels eat them up. Tire track eels remain largely indifferent to their tank mates and do not pick any fights. So as long as they are not attacked by their tank mates, they are good to go. Some good options include:

  • Acara
  • Knifefish
  • Gouramis

– Can You Keep Tire Track Eels Together?

Technically, yes. You can keep tire track eels together, but only when they are juvenile. Freshwater eels tend to get aggressive and defensive about their space when surrounded by their own species. So while you may keep tire track eels together when they are young, you should separate and keep them singly for peaceful community tanks.

Feeding Tire Track Eel

Tire tracks eels have distinct feeding habits. They do not eat very often, and when they do, they can be picky about what they want. Therefore, providing them with nutritious meals is crucial for their growth and wellbeing.

– Diet

Tire track eels are omnivores which means you can feed them both meaty foods and plant matter. They boast a strong preference for live and fresh frozen foods such as prawns, brine shrimp, earthworms, and bloodworms.

Tire track eels also devour insect larvae and small fish. These freshwater eels also occasionally consume vegetable matter. Although it is rare, you might find your tire track eels feeding on aquarium plants and detritus.

Most of your tire track eel’s diet should consist of fresh meaty and live foods such as brine shrimp and worms. If you prefer, you can also train your tire track eels to feed on freeze-dried food such as tubifex or prepared tablets such as those of krill or ocean plankton.

However, you should not depend too much on processed foods as it is likely for them to not tickle your tire track eel’s fancy.

– How Often Should You Feed Your Tire Track Eel?

This species does not require frequent meals. In fact, they only need to be fed a couple of times a week. Tire track eels can go an entire week without feeding on anything, and some might even refuse to eat out of their own accord.

Hence, you can either feed them a couple of times a week or every couple of weeks – both cases are perfectly normal!

Breeding Tire Track Eels

Breeding this fish in captivity is not a common practice and is not very well documented, so little research is available about the process. However, based on knowledge about the breeding of spiny eels, stimulating the conditions of a flood can help kick-start the process of breeding.

Furthermore, during the breeding season, the food quality should be improved, and clean water should be added to the tank.

Tire track eels mate by courting for hours which usually involves chasing each other around the tank. They lay eggs securely in the plants, and the fry comes soon after, within four days.


  • Tire track eels are native to Southeast Asia.
  • Tire track eels can grow up to 26 inches in length.
  • Their life expectancy is between 8 and 18 years.
  • Tire track eels are omnivores.
  • They should not be kept together in one tank.

Tire track eels might be known as hard to keep, but for an experienced hobbyist, they can prove to be a source of joy.

If you understand their eating habits and keep them in an ideal community of fish, tire track eels are a pleasure to keep!

5/5 - (17 votes)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here