The European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a long bony fish. It is an anguillid eel.
The European Eel has a long, snake-like grey-silver body with a slender head and a paddle-tail. Its underbelly is creamy-white. Along its back is a long dorsal fin, and it has two pectoral fins (fins behind the eel’s head).
It can reach a length of about 100 centimetres (39 inches).
The European Eel lives in freshwater and saltwater. It is found in the Northern Atlantic south to Mauritius, the Mediterranean, North and Baltic Seas and the rivers that feed into these oceans.
It is a nocturnal fish, feeding at night. It is a carnivore, feeding on fish and invertebrates in the water, such as crabs, worms, and insects. It also scavenges on dead aquatic animals.
Its life cycle is complex. Females lay eggs in the ocean. When the eggs hatch, the eels are in the planktonic larvae or leptocephali growth stage, which metamorphose into ‘glass eels’ that are small and transparent. They can remain in this stage for many months as they drift from the ocean towards the coast. Glass eels feed and travel to freshwater inland rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries to complete their development.
When the glass eels enter the rivers, they metamorphose into elvers (baby eels). They metamorphose again into ‘yellow eels’ and stay in this stage for many years – up to about 20-50 years.
On maturity, they become ‘silver eels’ and they migrate long distances back to the ocean to breed and spawn (lay eggs). This fish migration from freshwater to saltwater is called a catadromous migration.
Adult eels die after spawning.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM