Garden Eel Tank


Reefing newb
We are longtime lurkers and decided to finally make a post. This is our 55 gallon garden eel tank. Enjoy!

Our 55 gallon garden eel tank:

Garden eels have been a passion of my wife ever since discovering them on a diving trip in the Caymans. We had thought keeping them in a home aquarium would be impossible but was excited to discover that my assumption was not entirely true.

We started our saltwater adventure with a 55 gallon reef tank. We enjoyed the salt water tank and its inhabitants so much that dreams quickly formed regarding more and larger tanks. A garden eel tank was in the back of my mind but I still thought they would be impossible to keep. Fortunately, we attended the UT reef fest this past fall and Scott Michael’s talk about unusual salt water animals to keep. Garden eels were mentioned. We spoke to him after the show about a garden eel tank and were thrilled to discover they might not be as difficult as expected.

We bought a used 55 gallon tank and the process started. We looked up everything we could about keeping garden eels but were disappointed by the small amount of information available. We discovered that sand depth and size is extremely important. Gardens eels like sand depths anywhere between 4-8 inches. Sand too fine will not form a stable burrow but sand too rough will damage their sensitive skins. We decided to go with a size 1 sand and filled half the tank to a 6 inch depth. We put some live rock on the shallow sand side of the tank to help with filtration.

A used 55g tank we picked up and did some work to.

115 pounds of sand later

A nearly full tank!

Time to cycle

Our research indicated that the eels would only eat water borne foods that were about at head height. The eels would not make any effort to eat foods off the sand or out of their reach. So we needed a way to keep the food circulating throughout the tank at eel height. We decided a spray bar would serve the purpose. We used tubing, pvc pipe, and an old maxi jet for the construction. We mounted it halfway up the side of the tank at what we thought would be eel head height. We also decided to run an additional maxi jet pump to increase circulation down the length of the tank. For filtering we are using a HOB filter with carbon that is changed monthly along with weekly water changes. We started the tank on a budget and are looking to add a skimmer and possible auto-feeder in the future. We went cheap with lighting and decided to use regular fresh water lighting T8s. We came to this decision because garden eels are found around 60ft depths and are not used to bright lighting. Some of our research indicated that too bright lighting could be distressful to the eels.

Our loot - 3 Hassi Garden Eels from LiveAquaria! Like Xmas in Feb.

The waiting is the hardest part. I hate waiting for acclimation, but it is so important

We decided to order our eels online from Live Aquaria. The eels frequently go in and out of stock. Just prior to our tank finally being cycled, the eels went out of stock. We ended up having to wait several additional weeks before we were able to order our eels. We decided to start with 3 eels so as not to crowd them too much. Some information we had gave up to 6 inches between the burrows. The day they arrived was full of excitement. This was our first experience with online fish retailers. We carefully followed the instructions and opened the boxes in a dark room. When we were finally able to bring them into the light to take a look we were really surprised by how thin they were (the width of pencils). We were expecting much fatter animals. They were so small, it was hard to even see them in the bottom of the bags. They seemed quite healthy and active moving around the bags and attempting to escape. One of the keys to garden eels is making sure you are starting with a healthy animal since they are rarely found to recover from any illness or injury.

They were anxious to be anywhere but in the bag

Looking back, I am not sure who had the most distressing first days, us or the eels. We acclimated the eels (which the eels did not enjoy, they were anxious to be out of the bags.) Unfortunately, upon introduction to the tank, we found that garden eels are terrible swimmers. The pumps and filters kept knocking them into the tank walls and rocks. We were terrified they would get injured. We read that they typically do not recover well if injured. We ended up turning off all the pumps for the day and were discouraged when they managed to explore everywhere except the sand. After leaving them overnight, one finally made a burrow. The other two were still floating around randomly. We were forced to turn on one filter to at least get some water circulation, but the remaining eels did not appreciate the increased water movement. By the end of the 2nd day 2 had created burrows and the third was in the sand by the 3rd day. Their first burrows were spread far apart in the tank, one even burrowed under the live rocks in the shallow part of the tank.


They weren't very good swimmers, like watching a newborn calf.


We started our feeding attempts with mysis, but it was too large and tended to scare them. We then switched to frozen brine shrimp which they quickly acclimated to eating. There was some concern with the location one had picked as to whether the current would bring it enough food. Within the 1st month it had moved burrows two times to locations with better water movement for food. They are now eating a diet of arctipods, brine shrimp, and a fish food frozen mix and seem quite healthy. They are fed once daily with small amounts at a time. The tank has several hermit crabs to help eat old food. The spray bar and maxi jets work well to keep the food floating long enough for the eels to eat their fill.

They are quite active during the day searching the waters for food. As they have gotten more comfortable they emerge higher from their holes. Once the lights turn off they quickly retreat into their burrow for the night and will even cover the hole with a bit a sand. They are a bit skittish when shadows darken the tank as people walk by but they will usually quickly come back out. Like all fish, they have different personalities and behaviors. One is very brave and is always the first to come out when there is new stuff going on and one is very skittish and will retreat at any movement. One is a piggy and will stretch to his maximum to eat any food morsel. There is one that prefers larger chunks of food and one that prefers extremely tiny foods.

We have really been enjoying our garden eels. They are fun to watch and can be pretty active during the day. Their bodies move with the currents like they are dancing. They also spend time cleaning out their burrows and we will just suddenly see puffs of sand in the water.





[ame=""]YouTube - Garden Eels[/ame]
Video of the Eels feeding.
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That seems soooo exciting! I could just sit there for hours and watch them. :) Oh, by the way, hello and welcome to the site...glad to have you.
Glad you decided to share your experience. Very cool and quite refreshing to read about something so different. Welcome to the site.
Wow, very interesting setup! I'm impressed. Thanks for sharing. I too was always impressed by the eel gardens I saw when diving -- and that makes for an awesome tank.

Do you have plans to add any more eels?
Cool :) I missed this thread. Thanks for the detailed instructions, obviously did your research! Glad to have you at the site!
My wife would love to get more. We just wanted to take it slow and see how they respond before adding more. No reason to overload ourselves. Thx for the great comments and support.
Those are really cool! I saw them at the aquarium! They are really cool! Can you add more live rock and include corals in the tanks as well? Or can any other fish be added?
Finally, you guys are out of the lurker closet :)
Great post, hope you guys post up some more over here, this gang's fantastic!
Leslee - We can add coral but first would need to get a better light. We are using just a basic fish only light. We need to get some PC's in there for better corals. We have talked about putting softies in. We have talked about a fish too but the eels are so shy that we are afraid we would never see them (they would hide every time it passed over.

Jag107 - Thx cuz, just had to have something worthy of posting!
fair impressive, never seen a garden eel, can't wait to see when you get a few corals in there. With the fish, the eels would eventually get used to them? as long as the fish were non agressive towards the eels.
Our plan would be to get some PC lights (as I think anything higher would bother the eels) and a skimmer and add some softies in there. What I would absolutely love to do is add a pair of pipefish. That would be my dream. Our fear would be with other fish that every time they swam by they would scare the eels. Ultimately this tank is about the eels. Softies and some pipefish though would add some nice color.