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American Eel Anguilla rostrata


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American Eel
credit: Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp

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Family: Anguillidae, Freshwater Eels view all from this family

Description The American eel, Anguilla rostrata, is a catadromous fish found on the eastern coast of North America. It has a snake-like body with a small sharp pointed head. It is brown on top and a tan-yellow color on the bottom. It has sharp pointed teeth but no pelvic fins. It is very similar to the European eel, but the two species differ in number of chromosomes and vertebrae.
Juvenile eels.

The eel lives in fresh water and only leaves this habitat to enter the Atlantic ocean for spawning. It takes 9 to 10 weeks for the eggs to hatch. After hatching, young eels move toward North America and enter freshwater systems to mature. The female can lay up to 4 million buoyant eggs a year, but dies after egg-laying.

The eel is found around the Atlantic coast including Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River. It prefers to hunt at night, and during the day it hides in mud, sand or gravel very close to shore, roughly 5 to 6 feet under.

American eels are economically very important to the East Coast and rivers where they travel. They are caught by fishermen and sold, eaten, or kept as pets. Eels help the Atlantic coast ecosystem by eating dead fish, invertebrates, carrion, insects, and if hungry enough, they will cannibalize each other.

Although many anglers are put off by the snake-like appearance of these catadromous fish, eels are in fact fit for human consumption. They are usually caught by anglers fishing for something else. The world record weight for the American eel is 9.25 pounds.

Dimensions Up to 4'11" (1.5 m).

Habitat Estuaries, tidal flats & salt marshes, Lakes & ponds, Ocean or bay shallows, Rivers & streams.

Range Plains, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest, Florida, Texas, Eastern Canada.