The Case of the Jumping Eel

15 Mar 2024 | ~4 minute read

My largest, and one of my favourite, fish (my fire eel) jumped out of his tank last night. He's managed to survive...so far.

I generally work from home on a Friday, and today was no different. So I got up, got myself and the kids ready, and headed to my home office. The room was dark, and I could see a large black thing on the floor. My first reaction was that one of the the dogs has shit in the house. Then I realised it was way to big to be a dog shit.

I turned the light on and to my horror, it was my fire eel, Eric. He'd managed to slither out of the tank during the night.

Eric is one of my favourite fish. He's a 60cm (2 foot for you Americans) fire eel that I've had for around 6 years now. When I bought him, he was just a few inches long. As he's got bigger I've upgraded the dens he lives in, and on two occasions, his tank too.

Baby Eric, at around 15cm (6 inches)
Baby Eric, at around 15cm (6 inches)
Adolescent Eric ar around 30cm (1 foot)
Adolescent Eric ar around 30cm (1 foot)

He's a lovely fish that's so friendly and full of character. When I feel him, he eats out of my hand and swims through my fingers. When I come near the tank, he always pops out to say hello. He's very much my wet pet. I love him.

Here's a video of the second tank I had him in. He's hiding in his den (the grey drain pipe), but as always, comes out to say hello when I get close:

So to walk in the office and find him in a lifeless ball on the floor was extremely upsetting.

I scooped him up, thinking he was dead and intending to go bury him.

Then he twitched.

I immediately opened the lid of the tank and dumped him in the water. Yes, he was covered in crap from the floor, but I could fish that out later. I just needed to get him breathing again.

So I held him there, willing him to start breathing, but his gills weren't moving. I could feel his muscles starting to twitch more in my hand though. There was something there.

After 5 minutes of suspending him in the water, his gills started to move. After 5 more minutes, he was attempting to swim.

He was going to live. For now at least...

It's not over yet

It's now late afternoon on the same day and Eric is looking very sorry for himself. His slime coat is all fucked up, and he's very lethargic. He's just not himself and I'm still not sure if he will pull through.

Eric's face now. A far cry from his usually cute little snout
Eric's face now. A far cry from his usually cute little snout
Eric's body now. It's a mess
Eric's body now. It's a mess

For now, I'll just have to keep an eye on him and hope for the best. His slime coat should regenerate over the next few days (assuming he pulls through) and hopefully he will soon get back to normal.

Usually, if a fish won't eat, it's only a matter of time before they pass. I've tried feeding Eric, but he won't eat. It's not looking good.

So what happened?

Fire eels are escape artists. They're known for it. The lid of the tank in my office is hinged, so I can flip it open for feeding and maintenance. Over the last few weeks, Eric has been exploring the lid more and more, to the point where he would bang into it, especially when excited, like during feeding time.

I'm thinking something must have spooked him during the night, maybe one of the dogs, or he just got over-confident with his exploration and flipped himself out of the tank. How one of the dogs didn't get him as soon as he flopped onto the floor is beyond me (they sleep in my office overnight).

I've been meaning to secure the lids down for a while, as I was concerned that this exact thing would happen. But I didn't get round to it, because I'm a dick head.

I've ordered some weights to hold the lid down, but for now tins of beans will have to do:

Fire eels aren't actually eels, they're just elongated fish. So they can't live out of water for hours, like "real" eels can. So I assume he must have jumped earlier this morning, rather than during the night. He had been out the tank for a long time though - if I had to estimate, it was at least an hour.

If he doesn't pull through, I'll never forgive myself.

Fucking pets...

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