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Aethiomastacembelus elipsifer
by Marc Elieson

Also known as the Tanganyikan Leopard Eel, A. elipsifer is a great addition to almost any rift lake aquarium. They are beautifully colored, very active and can attain lengths of 45cm. Unfortunately, nothing is currently known about their breeding behavior, and consequently, all eels in the hobby from this species are brought to us from the wild.

When keeping this Tanganyikan eel, several precautions should be considered. First and foremost, Aethiomastacembelus elipsifermake sure you have either a grid or a lid on any filter intakes, sumps, and overflow boxes so as to prevent your prized eel from migrating from the tank to your wet/dry or canister filter. Also be sure to use the cover for the top of your tank, otherwise an unexpected death may result from a 5-foot drop to the floor. This has happened more times than you may care to believe, hopefully never twice to the same hobbyist. Eels are curious and are always willing to explore new areas.

The second most important precaution to consider is the tankís dťcor Ė the eelís new biotope. This eel, like most, loves to hide in the substrate; therefore, the substrate should either be sand or something else that is non-abrasive. Rocks, such as honeycomb limestone (aka. holey rock), that create lots of caves for hiding and exploration will also help this eel to feel more comfortable in your aquarium. Due to this eelís large size, tanks no smaller than 100 gallons are recommended, with 125+ really being ideal. While this eel is not aggressive towards cichlids and catfish, it can be fairly aggressive towards equals. In the wild, A. elipsifer claims a territory of several square meters, so be sure that this eels has lots of room to move.

As far as diet is concerned, A. elipsifer is pretty accommodating and can be trained to eat anything, including flake food. In the wild, most of their diet is comprised of insect larvae and other invertebrates found in the sand. Training your eel to eat the same food you feed your cichlids can be a trying time, especially if you are keeping it with vegetarian cichlids, such as Tropheus spp. or mbuna. Thatís because even after being captured, it has probably been fed on Cyclops, mysis, krill, and artemia. These are obviously not suitable foods to administer if the eel shares the tank with a Tropheus. If you are going to keep an elipsifer with vegetarian cichlids, try to get one that is longer than 15cm, otherwise the transition period may be too demanding. This is partly due to the fact that this benthivore feeds primarily at night. I would think it safe to assume that this is attributable to its poor vision. And consequently, it must find its food by smell. With these two strikes against it, and to have cichlids as tank mates, I think you can begin to see why it might be difficult to acclimate a smaller eel to a vegetarian diet.

Aethiomastacembelus elipsiferI should also point out that while A. elipsifer is not aggressive, any fishes small enough to swallow will disappear. Goby fish are easy to catch and always appreciated.

Males and females can be differentiated by examining their vents just as you would any cichlid species. In addition to the differences in their vents, females tend to have more rounded bellies and males are slightly taller than females.

How to catch an elipsifer? Well, patience is needed here. The best method is to place a large PVC tube or hollow brick in font of its cave (with maybe some food in it) several days prior to capturing it. Give them some time to become comfortable with the trap. Then, once they enter your trap, close both ends and remove it. And donít forget to put a lid on whatever container you move the eel to!

Two more items should be addressed in closing. If you find that you need to treat the tank with formalin or malachite green, remove your eel (and any Synodontis catfish too) first, as they donít endure it very well. Also, if you intend on keeping your eel with any predatory fish like C. frontosa, itís recommended getting an eel over 15cm long (or > 1cm in diameter) because otherwise it might be viewed as a snack!

 

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