One of the first questions we ask an e-mailer when inquiring about this topic is, did the fish store provide a scientific or species name for the Eel they were selling? In all cases the answer was no. If the Eel that is being sold is not identified, then how do you know exactly what it is? And, without this information how are you supposed to care for it? Properly identifying an animal you are thinking of buying is essential to its well being. So, how do you identify a saltwater VS freshwater Snowflake Eel? Simple. The Echidna nebulosa (pictured) is a saltwater Snowflake Moray Eel. If you see this name attached to an Eel being sold as a "Freshwater Snowflake", it's most likely not one. It has either been grossly misrepresented or misidentified, and if in fact it is the saltwater species being kept in freshwater, how sad! Saltwater fish can tolerate the lowering of salinity for short periods of time, which is often done for treating saltwater Ich by means of O.S.T. (Osmotic Shock Therapy), but they cannot remain permanently in these conditions without eventually perishing.
To further help clear up the confusion between saltwater and so-called freshwater Eels we consulted with Shirlie Sharpe, your About Freshwater Aquariums Guide. She provided the following information in response to an example of just one of the many e-mails we get on this topic:
are right, it's nonsense. There aren't any "true" freshwater Moray Eels.
However, there are some freshwater Eels that may be misrepresented as such
(you know how some pet shops are, they can mislabel a goldfish!) In fact,
I saw one myself. It looked vaguely like a Snowflake Eel, and the pet shop
had a big sign on it "Freshwater Snowflake". In reality it was a Spiny
Eel, Mastocembelus armatus, which is not a true Eel at all. For
your info, all true freshwater Eels belong to the Family Anguillidae.
There is only one freshwater Eel indigenous to the United States - Anguilla
rostrata, or American Eel (unique name, huh?) What I've seen most often
in shops are fish that are called Eels, but in reality they are not from
the Eel Family at all. Among them are "Fire Eels" (Mastacembelus erythrotaenia),
"Tiretrack Eels" (Mastacembelus argus), or "Peacock Eels" (Macrognathus
aculeatus). None of these fish are true Eels, and they are definitely
not from the saltwater Moray Eel Family."
- Freshwater Eel Profiles & Photos - A slow loading page, but includes an image of a White Spot Spiny Eel (Mastacembelus armatus), often mistaken or misidentified as a saltwater Snowflake Moray Eel.
- Fire Eel (Mastacemblus erythrotaenia) Profile & Photo
- Spiny Eel (Mastacembelus armatus/Macrognathus armatus) Profile
Update: Since writing this article it has been brought to our attention that there are some "true" Moray Eels that do inhabit or can adapt to freshwater and/or brackish water environments. Refer to our Freshwater VS Saltwater Moray Eels Revisited article for more information about these Eels, how to identify them and what their primary water habitat preferences are!