American Eel

Jacob Davidson

Scientific and Common Name


American Eel are found in fresh, brackish, and coastal waters from the southern tip of Greenland to northeastern South America.

Characteristics of Young & Adult American Eels

Mating & Reproduction

Eggs: The eggs hatch within a week of deposition in the Sargasso Sea.

Leptocephali: The leptocephalus is the larval form. Leptocephali are transparent with a small pointed head and large teeth and are frequently described “leaf-like”.

Glass eel: As they enter the continental shelf, leptocephali metamorphose into glass eels (juveniles), which are transparent and possess the typical elongate and serpentine eel shape.

Elvers: Glass eels become progressively pigmented as they approach the shore; these eels are termed elvers. The melanic pigmentation process occurs when the young eels are in coastal waters.

Yellow eels: This is the sexually immature adult stage of American eel. They begin to develop a yellow color and a creamy or yellowish belly. In this phase, the eels are still mainly nocturnal.

Silver eels: As the maturation process proceeds, the yellow eel metamorphoses into a silver eel. The silvering metamorphosis results in morphological and physiological modifications that prepare the animal to migrate back to the Sargasso Sea. The eel acquires a greyish colour with a whitish or cream coloration ventrally. The pectoral fins enlarge to improve swimming capacity.

(Nedeau, 2007)

Special Abilities/Needs

American Eels are unique because they are one of the few fish that are catadromous. This means they spend most of their lives in fresh water, but return to the sea to breed.

They have the ability to absorb oxygen throught their skins to breathe. This allows them to survive out of water for several hours. If an eel is found doing this, it is most often on a damp, rainy night.

Eels can also travel by underground waterways. This explains how eels are found in ponds that don't have a stream leading to it.

(Painter, 2009)

Niche in the Food Chain

The American Eel is a third level consumer because they eat herbivores which are second level consumers

Predators of eels include larger fish, gulls, and eagles.

The Eels eat in a rotational feeding style tearing parts of the food of by biting on the prey then twisting around so that they rip the meat off.

(Beebe, 2000)

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Ecological/Economic Significances of American Eels

Ecological-They are a top-order predator in freshwater streams, which help regulate the population of other animals. They themselves are a significant source of food for fish, mammals, turtles and birds. They can be used as a bio-indicator for pollution since they are long lived — up to 15 years in Maryland — and often spend their time in the same system.

Economic-Global production of eels (Anguilla spp.) increased nearly 20-fold from 1950 to 2007 (Crook 2010), and 90-95 percent of current production is attributed to aquaculture of wild-caught young (FAO 2009, Crook 2010). Eel farming, whether in Europe, Asia or North America, relies on wild-caught juveniles because it has been difficult or impossible to produce viable offspring using captive spawning methods. (Lutz, 2012)

Works Cited

Beebe, W. (2000, January 1). American Eel. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from Watershed Wildlife CD/Animal Pages/American_eel.htm

Nedeau, E. (Ed.). (2007, January 1). Restoring a Vanishing Resource in the Gulf of Maine. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from

Painter, T. (2009, January 1). American Eel. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from