Snowflake Eel (Snowflake Moray)

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Snowflake Eel
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If you want to get an eel for your tank, this might be the most congenial of them all. Snowflake moray eels can get large, up to 2 feet long in captivity, and are very good at escaping from the tank. A large tank with a tight-fitting hood with no possible escape points is a necessity.

Characteristics

Scientific Name

Echidna nebulosa

Synonym

Echidna variegata, Gymnothorax boschi, Gymnothorax boschii, Lycodontis boschi, Muraena boschii, Muraena nebulosa, Muraena ophis, Poecilophis nebulosa

Common NamesSnowflake moray, Bosch's eel, clouded moray eel, floral eel, starry eel, white and zebra moray eel
FamilyMuraenidae
OriginIndo-Pacific region, including Indonesia and Vanuatu
Adult SizeUp to 24 inches
SocialAggressive
Lifespan4 years
Tank LevelBottom-dweller that needs hiding spots
Minimum Tank Size75 gallon
DietCarnivore
BreedingEgg scatterer
CareEasy to intermediate
pH8.1  to 8.4
Hardness8 to 12 dGH
Temperature72 to 80 F (22 to 27 C)

Origin and Distribution

The snowflake eel inhabits caves and crevices throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs from Hawaii southward to Australia, westward through the islands of the Indo-Pacific to the East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa.

Colors and Markings

Snowflake eels have an ornamental pattern that resembles many different snowflakes across the body. Its body is white or cream-colored with black dendritic or teethlike black blotches that contain one or two yellow spots. The eyes of the snowflake moray eel are yellow and there are yellow markings on the head. The teeth of this moray are perfect for crustacean prey. The conical teeth of the snowflake moray eel are good for crushing invertebrate exoskeletons. Larger snowflake moray eels tend to eat more fish in the wild.

Tankmates

Compatible tankmates for the snowflake moray eel include other relatively large, aggressive fish, such as lionfish, tangs, triggerfish, wrasses, and possibly even other snowflake moray eels if they are both introduced to the tank at the same time.

Although considered to be less aggressive than other saltwater morays, the snowflake eel can become very pugnacious at feeding time. With poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell, when food is detected it emerges from hiding and aggressively searches it out. This moray is best kept with fish larger in size than the eel to discourage predation and can live communally with other eels if plenty of room and shelter is provided.

Snowflake moray eels are not safe to keep with shrimp, crabs, or lobsters since crustaceans are their natural diet. However, they are safe to keep with most other invertebrates, including starfish, anemones, and sea urchins. Snowflake morays are reef safe and will not bother corals, though these eels are messy eaters and will require strong filtration and a relatively large protein skimmer for the long-term health of any corals housed in their aquarium. The moray eel will likely consume very small fish such as damselfish. 

Snowflake Eel Habitat and Care

A snowflake eel can outgrow a small aquarium in a rather short period of time, so get a large tank from the onset. The snowflake eel generally adapts well to aquarium conditions and is disease-resistant.

The snowflake moray eel can often be a bit shy during the first few weeks in a new aquarium. Provide it with many places to hide, and ample room to move around. Equip the tank with at least one suitably sized cave. If possible, provide it with several caves and decorate in such a way that it is possible for it to move from one side of the aquarium to the other without being exposed. Due to this eel's size and strength, rock formations should be stacked firmly to prevent structures from becoming dislodged.

This is a very hardy eel, but an escape artist; a tightly fit canopy is ideal. Most of the eels that do die (or get lost) in hobbyist aquariums fell victim to poorly sealed tanks. The snowflake moray eel has the ability to find and crawl out of the smallest hole in the aquarium top, so make sure all of these holes are well-covered. They can slide out and may make their way through PVC plumbing into filter bags or the aquarium sump.

Snowflake Eel Diet

The wild snowflake eel is a carnivorous, nocturnal predator, ambushing fish and crustaceans. In the tank, it will take frozen or freeze-dried krill, fish, shrimp, clams, squid, octopus, scallops, krill feeder fish, and most meaty foods enriched with vitamins. It can be taught to hand feed, although this should be done with caution, as it can inflict a painful bite.

Unless already acclimated to frozen foods, the moray eel will likely need to be fed with live ghost shrimp when first acquired. Weaning can be accomplished over time. The feeding of freshwater feeder fish (like goldfish and rosy reds) will likely cause liver disease if fed to the eel, so such food items should be avoided.

A snowflake eel usually ignores other tank inhabitants if it is well fed, at least several times a week. It is not uncommon for eels to go into a "hibernation" period, often hiding and not eating for several weeks or longer.

Sexual Differences

There is no noticeable difference between the sexes. Keeping multiple eels is typically more of a challenge than a breeder will want to deal with. Snowflake eels are protogynous, meaning the more dominant eel will change from female to male. Again this brings more issues, as eels are generally peaceful toward one another. Gender changing can take several months to a year, which is far longer than most breeders are willing to wait. 

Breeding the Snowflake Eel

Snowflake eels are egg scatterers that produce eggs often in midwater mating rituals. Their eggs and larvae drift with plankton in the water column and settle back onto a reef at about the time of hatching. Snowflake eels are among the most challenging types of marine fish to propagate in captivity.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If snowflake eels appeal to you, and you are interested in similar fish for your aquarium, read up on:

Check out additional fish breed profiles for more information on other saltwater fish.