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Eels and Morays: Anguilliformes

American Eel (anguilla Rostrata): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: American eels have snakelike bodies covered with thick slime. Males grow to 5 feet (1.5 meters) and females to 4 feet (1.2 meters). These eels weigh as much as 16 pounds (7 kilograms). American eels have 103 to 111 vertebrae.

Geographic range: American eels live in the western Atlantic Ocean, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: At sea American eels live in deep water. In freshwater they live in streams with constant flow.

American eels have snakelike bodies covered with thick slime. (Illustration by Barbara Duperron. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: The larvae of American eels eat plankton, which are microscopic plants and animals drifting in the water. Elvers eat water insects; small crustaceans (krus-TAY-shuns), or water-dwelling animals that have jointed legs and a hard shell but no backbone; and dead fish. Adults eat insects, crustaceans, clams, worms, fish, frogs, toads, and dead animals.

Behavior and reproduction: While in freshwater, American eels hide during the day. At night they swim near the bottom in search of food. Not much is known about reproduction among American eels. During autumn adults migrate to the western part of the Atlantic Ocean for spawning, which takes place in January. The females lay up to four million buoyant eggs, or eggs that can float on the water, and then die. After fertilizing (FUR-teh-lye-zing) the eggs, the males also die. The larvae drift toward coastal waters for as long as eighteen months. They then transform into elvers. American eels spend most of their lives, as long as twenty years, in freshwater before returning to the sea for spawning.

American eels and people: American eels are consumed as food.

Conservation status: American eels are not threatened or endangered. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceFish and Other Cold-Blooded VertebratesEels and Morays: Anguilliformes - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Eels, Morays, And People, American Eel (anguilla Rostrata): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS