While they are not for everyone, moray eels make a nice aquatic equivalent. Not only are they unusual, there are some eels that are adorned with attractive color patterns. The chainlink moray eel (Echidna catenata) is one such eel.
Difficulty: The chainlink moray eel is a fairly durable member of the clan. The only downside to keeping this crustacean-eater is that it is more likely to require live fiddler crabs or ghost shrimp to induce that initial feeding response. Once the chainlink moray eel feels more at home in its captive lair, most individuals will accept “dead” crustaceans (like pieces of table shrimp or larger frozen krill, which are well-suited for the juvenile chainlink moray eel) or small chunks of marine fish flesh. Patience is the key; offer marine animal flesh on the end of a sharpened piece of airline tubing, moving the piece of food slowly in front on the chainlink moray eel’s head.
Physical description: The base color of Echidna catenata can be a dirty white, creamy or even yellowish. On top of this, there is a darker latticed pattern that helps the chainlink moray eel disappear among rocks, sea grass and the glitter lines present in the shallow waters where it normally lives. The chainlink moray eel teeth are not the sharp, daggerlike teeth found in the stereotypical moray (like those evil moray caricatures seen in Hollywood films). Instead, the chainlink moray eel has molarlike teeth that are used to crush the exoskeleton of its crab prey. The chainlink moray eel hunts its food at night and probes crevices in search of hiding crustaceans during the day. The chainlink moray eel reaches a maximum length of 28 inches.
Range: The chainlink moray eel is found on both sides of the Atlantic. The Echidna catenata specimens in the aquarium trade come from Floridian reefs, Central America and Brazil. The chainlink moray eel is often found in shallow water (usually in less than 40 feet) moving along rocky shorelines in search of its favorite food. While the chainlink moray eel usually stays close to shelter (rocks and coral) during the day, it will move out onto sand expanses to hunt at night.
Compatibility: Because of the chainklink moray eel’s specialized diet, it is one of the more fish-friendly morays. That is not to say larger specimens can always resist a smaller fish, especially a fish that is distressed or newly added to an aquarium the moray eel already calls home. The chainlink moray eel can be kept with other morays, but be aware that some of the more piscivorous eels (e.g., the honey comb, Gymnothorax favagineus] and spotted moray eel, G. moringa) will eat a chainlink moray eel or may even bite it in two. That said, Echidna catenata does well with more docile eels, such as the snowflake moray eel (Echidna nebulosa), and with predatory fish (e.g., lionfish, groupers, hawkfish) that are not large enough to swallow this eel whole (a grouper or even a frogfish may eat a juvenile chainlink moray eel). The chainlink moray eel will usually behave itself in an aquarium that is home to larger butterflyfish, angelfish, surgeonfish and rabbitfish. Triggerfish and pufferfish may cause problems — they have been known to bite at chainlink moray eels.
Aquarium conditions: Like other eels, the chainlink moray eel can withstand suboptimal conditions, although poor water quality may cause this eel to stop eating. A 55-gallon aquarium can easily hold a full-grown adult chainlink moray eel, while juveniles can be temporarily held in aquariums as small as 10-gallons. Provide suitable crevices and holes for it to refuge in, especially during the daylight hours. Also, a secure top is essential to keep the chainlink moray eel from “slithering about” and ending up dried up under the couch. A pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 72 to 82 will do just fine for the chainlink moray eel.
Care considerations: Besides potential problems with feeding and its proclivity for wanting to escape out of a hole in the aquarium cover, the chainlink moray eel is almost indestructible and can live for a couple of decades in the home aquarium.
Breeding: The chainlink moray eel is not likely to spawn in the home aquarium.