Ribbon Eel

Ribbon Eel: A Guide to Care and Maintenance

The Ribbon Eel, known for its striking appearance and unique characteristics, is a fascinating species that can be a rewarding challenge for expert aquarists. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about Ribbon Eel care, including their natural habitat, appearance, behavior, tank requirements, diet, and potential tank mates. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to provide the best possible care for your Ribbon Eel.

Introduction to Ribbon Eels

Ribbon Eels, scientifically known as Rhinomuraena quaesita, belong to the Moray family and are native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They inhabit reefs and lagoons between East Africa and French Polynesia, residing in the crevices and holes of rocky structures. Due to their unique coloration and captivating swimming style, Ribbon Eels are highly sought after by aquarists, but they are also considered challenging to maintain due to their specific care requirements.

Species Summary

Ribbon Eels are characterized by their elongated, scaleless bodies, and lack of pectoral fins, giving them a snake-like appearance. A prominent dorsal fin runs the length of their bodies, contributing to their ribbon-like swimming motion. They are generally shy creatures that spend most of their time hiding in rock crevices, making them a captivating sight when they emerge to swim or hunt for food.

Unique Traits and Reproduction

One of the most intriguing aspects of Ribbon Eels is their ability to change both color and sex during their life cycle. They are born male and black in color, with a yellow dorsal fin. As they reach adulthood, their bodies transform into a vibrant electric blue while still retaining the yellow dorsal fin and mouth. Finally, they transition to female, turning yellow and growing longer.

In the wild, Ribbon Eels can live up to 20 years, but in captivity, their lifespan is typically much shorter, often only a few years. This is primarily due to the difficulty of feeding them and their relatively large size. It’s worth noting that Ribbon Eels cannot breed successfully in captivity, so all specimens available for purchase are wild-caught, adding to the challenge of their care.

Ribbon Eel Appearance and Size

Ribbon Eels have a distinct appearance, with elongated bodies featuring a tall dorsal fin running the length of their body. Their faces and snouts are similar to other Moray eels, but Ribbon Eels have flared nostrils. Their mouths are equipped with rows of needle-like teeth, which they use to snatch and shred prey as it swims past their hiding spot.

Male Ribbon Eels typically measure between 26 and 40 inches in length, while females can grow up to 51 inches. It’s essential to consider their size when planning their tank setup, as they will require ample space to explore and hide.

Caring for Ribbon Eels: Tank Requirements

Ribbon Eels demand specific tank conditions and a lot of space to thrive in captivity. As they are wild-caught, it’s crucial to ensure their tank is as close to their natural habitat as possible to minimize stress and encourage healthy behavior.

Tank Size

A minimum tank size of 55 gallons is recommended for Ribbon Eels, as they need ample space to explore and hide among rocks and crevices. It’s essential to ensure your tank is sealed or covered with mesh to prevent escape attempts, as Ribbon Eels are known to leap from their tanks.

Water Parameters

Maintaining proper water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of your Ribbon Eel. The following parameters should be maintained:

  • Water temperature: 78°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 8 to 8.2
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.023 to 1.025 sg

Additionally, Ribbon Eels are sensitive to ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate build-up in the water. Ensure these levels are as close to zero as possible and use a protein skimmer to remove dead organic matter.

Aquascaping: Creating a Natural Habitat

To mimic their natural environment, provide plenty of live rock for your Ribbon Eel to explore, leaving spaces and crevices for them to hide. Secure larger rocks using epoxy or zip ties to prevent potential collapses as the eel explores its surroundings.

Consider creating a network of tunnels beneath the substrate using PVC piping, which allows the eel to roam and feel secure in its habitat. Creating an opening to the surface of the tank floor at a 45-degree angle can simulate their natural habitat and reduce stress levels.

Ribbon Eel Health: Common Issues and Prevention

The most common health issue affecting Ribbon Eels is ammonia and nitrate poisoning. Ensuring proper filtration and water flow is essential for maintaining tolerable levels of these compounds in the tank. Due to their finicky eating behavior and relatively short captive lifespan, it can be challenging to nurse Ribbon Eels back to health if they become ill.

While Ribbon Eels are predatory carnivores, they are not overly aggressive. However, their long bodies make them vulnerable to attack from larger, more aggressive fish or other predators. It’s essential to monitor their tank mates carefully to prevent potential conflicts or injuries.

Ribbon Eel Diet and Feeding

Feeding Ribbon Eels can be a challenge due to their picky eating habits. Many eels will starve to death as they continually reject food. In general, Ribbon Eels will eat anything small enough to fit in their mouths, such as fish or invertebrates.

When selecting a Ribbon Eel, ask the seller for a feeding demonstration to ensure the eel is accustomed to eating in captivity. It’s often easier to train juvenile Ribbon Eels to accept food in a tank environment.

Suitable food options for Ribbon Eels include live fish such as Rosy Reds, Guppies, or small Goldfish, as well as mollies, which are a good size and can adapt to saltwater. It’s essential to vary the eel’s diet to keep them engaged during feedings.

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Ribbon Eel Behavior and Temperament

Ribbon Eels are semi-aggressive, predatory carnivores that are most active during the daytime. They generally spend their time in tunnel systems or among rocks, waiting for prey to pass by. Ribbon Eels can be territorial and may snap at other fish that approach their hiding spot. However, overt aggression is generally only displayed when the eel feels vulnerable due to a lack of hiding spots.

Ribbon Eel Tank Mates

Ribbon Eels can make excellent tank mates for each other, provided there is adequate space for each eel to explore and hide. Groups of males tend to be relatively docile towards one another and can even share tunnels and hiding spots.

Other suitable tank mates for Ribbon Eels include larger fish species that are too big for the eel to eat, such as Angelfish, Groupers, Lionfish, Rabbitfish, and Tangs. Be sure to monitor feeding times if live food is present in the tank, as Ribbon Eels may not compete with other predatory fish for prey.

Breeding Ribbon Eels

Breeding Ribbon Eels in captivity is rare and challenging to achieve. While fertilized eggs have been observed in aquariums, the young rarely survive beyond the larval stage. Males and females only interact during mating, which complicates breeding efforts, as a tank large enough to accommodate both sexes is required.

Other Moray Eel Relatives

Ribbon Eels are part of the Moray family, a group of well-adapted fish species known for their hunting prowess and ability to thrive in reefs and lagoons. Some relatives of the Ribbon Eel include the White Ribbon Eel and the Snowflake Moray, each with its own unique appearance and care requirements.


Caring for a Ribbon Eel can be a challenging yet rewarding experience for expert aquarists. By understanding their natural habitat, behavior, and care requirements, you can provide a comfortable environment for your Ribbon Eel to thrive in captivity. Remember to regularly consult guides and seek advice from experienced aquarists to ensure the continued well-being of your Ribbon Eel.

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