This fish is not considered to be a true eel, but like all members of the Mastacembelidae family, known as the Spiny Eels, its body shape is definitely eel-like. It is very cute little fish when it is first acquired. It has an elongated body and a long snout, and is generally about 4 inches long. But be aware that this fish will grow, and could reach close to 3 feet in length. An adult will require a very large aquarium.
The popularity of the Zig Zag Eel M. armatus is rivaled by its similar looking relative, the Tire Track Eel Mastacembelus favus. These eels are recognized and named for their distinct, irregular dark black markings. They both have 'tire track' or 'zig zag' type markings and both bear the common names of Zig Zag Eel and Tire Track Eel.
The term "tire track eel' can get rather confusing, There are actually several spiny eels that are called Tire Track Eels, and so are often mis-identified. This is a common name that is used for 3, sometimes 4 different species. Besides being used for M. armatus and M. favus, it is also a common name used for the Half-banded Spiny Eel Macrognathus circumcinctus, and occasionally for the Black Spotted Eel Mastacembelus dayi.
The two popular two spiny eels M. armatus and M. favus, are also often ms-identified because they are so similar looking when offered for sale as juveniles. But despite their very similar appearances, they do have some recognizable differences. Overall their coloration is quite similar, but the placement of the reticulated patterning on the body is the most distinguishing element.
The Zig Zag Eel M. armatus discussed here has a series of irregular dark markings along the entire length of its body. But the reticulated patterning is strong on the upper two thirds of its body, leaving the lower belly portion mostly plain. Its relative M. favus is also marked along the entire length of its body, but its patterning is more extreme. The irregular markings on M. favus reach from the top of its back down through its belly.
Of these two Spiny Eels, the Tire Track Eel M. favus is perhaps the more frequently imported. Though it's difficult to tell them apart, it is important to know which of these two Spiny Eels you are getting so you can prepare for their long term care. Besides patterning discussed above, there is another primary difference between these two that is not readily apparent when purchasing. That is their adult size. The Tire Track Eel can get up to about 28 inches (70 cm) long while this eel, the Zig Zag Eel M. armatus, will ultimately be quite a bit larger. It can reach up to 35 inches (90 cm) in length
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