What is an American Eel?

American eel: the slimy, snake-like fish that slithers along at the bottom of rivers and freshwater locations, is a more complex creature than most people may think.

Read through this quick guide to find out everything you need to know about the slimy fish.

So what is an American eel?

The American eel is a fish found along the east coast of North America. It has a slender, snake-like body that is covered with a mucus layer, which makes the eel appear to be naked and slimy despite the presence of minute scales.

The life of the American eel begins and ends at the Sargasso Sea, located between the Azores and the West Indies.

There are so many things to learn about the American eel, including where it comes from, what it eats, and how it compares to all of the other species of eel that exist around the world.

The next few sections will fill you in on all of this information in just a few minutes.

Table of Contents

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The American Eel

Although the American eel is the only species of eel that resides in the Americas, there are actually three species of eel in total.

The popularity of the eel ranges depending on where you are in the world, but it seems as though the eel is most popular in Japan for fishing as well as eating, as well as various countries in Europe, including England.

Eel species that exist in the world:

  • American Eel
  • European Eel
  • Japanese Eel

The American Eel, also called Anguilla rostrata, is the only species of freshwater eel found in North America.

The American eel has been around for thousands of years and through surviving multiple ice ages, and seemingly equipped to withstand the cycles and fluctuations inherent in ocean dynamics.

According to scientists, the American eel is extremely resilient.

Some scientists consider the highly adaptive American eel to have the broadest diversity of habitats of any fish species in the world.

The American eel has a long dorsal fin that runs from the middle of the back and is continuous with a similar ventral fin, no pelvic fins, and relatively small pectoral fins.

They range in color from olive green, brown shading to greenish-yellow and light gray or white on the belly. They live in freshwater, although they migrate through the ocean at several points in their life.

The European Eel, also called Anguilla, is considered a critically endangered species with its numbers dropping by 90 percent each year.

This is due to overfishing, parasites such as Anguillicola Crassus, barriers to migration such as hydroelectric dams, and natural changes in the North Atlantic oscillation, Gulf Stream and North Atlantic drift.

They present an ecological threat to the American eel, which is only found in North America, because of the parasite it carries.

Additionally, they are native to the Atlantic Ocean from the coasts of Scandinavia to Morocco and have also been reported on the east coast of the United States.

The Japanese Eel, or the Anguilla japonica, is found in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the northern Philippines.

While the American and European eels spawn in the Atlantic Ocean, the spawning area of this species is in the North Equatorial Current in the western North Pacific to the west of the Mariana Islands. They are called unagi in Japanese, and they are an important part of the food culture.

Where The American Eel Lives

American eels live along the Atlantic Coast throughout various countries. Some of the areas in which these eels can be found are listed below.

American Eel Locations:

  • Greenland
  • Canada
  • United States
  • The Caribbean islands

Regardless of where they live, American Eels prefer to live in muddy bottoms and calm waters. Because they are nocturnal, they come out at night and spend most of their days hiding under rocks.

Although they are technically considered a freshwater eel, they tend to move between habitats of freshwater and ocean water.

This migration between freshwater and ocean water plays a large role in their spawning process.

Additionally, the Sargasso Sea, between the Azores and the West Indies, serves as their breeding ground and from there they migrate into freshwater habitats as they mature and will eventually return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and eventually die.

What The American Eel Eats

For American eels, the amount of food they eat depends on a few different factors. These factors include their body size, the time of day, and the time of year.

Depending on how big or small an eel is, the amount of food they eat will directly reflect these characteristics. Since eel size can range from two inches to five feet, that makes up a pretty wide range of what an eel can eat.

The American eels feeding habits also depend on the time of day. Eels are nocturnal animals and will be doing most of their feeding and swimming at night.

Finally, the eating habits of an American eel depends on the time of year. Eels will typically eat more during the warmer months and less during the winter months.

American eels are carnivores and they have a wide range of foods that they eat from tiny insects to small animals. In addition to the things listed below, they may even eat dead animals or smaller eels.

American Eel Basic Diet:

  • Insects
  • Fish
  • Fish eggs
  • Crabs
  • Worms
  • Clams
  • Frogs

Along with the eels eating habits, they are able to break up their food by tugging it and spinning around at least six times to break it.

With their weak jaws and many small teeth, the eel has had to develop an interesting way of eating to compensate for their shortcomings so when they encounter food that is too big for them they are able to break it into smaller pieces to consume it more easily.

To wrap this up, the American eel is a very complex and intriguing creature. From the unique cycle of life that the species follows to their diet and aesthetic features, there is always something new to learn about it.

Related Questions

How big are American eels?

The size of an American eel can range from two inches to well over three feet long. At maximum, the eels will grow to be four to five feet long.

Despite the size range, no matter where you go to find your eel, the female eels will always grow to be much larger than the male eels. This can be a difference of several feet in adult years.

Where do people eat eel?

Eel are eaten all over the world, particularly in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisine as well as in Europe, particularly England and Italy, and the United States.

Eel seems to be the most popular as a dish in Japan where they call it unagi. There it is popular to eat is grilled and also as part of sushi, and is quite a popular dish in England as well.

What is the proper way to clean and prepare an American eel before eating?

Before eating any type of eel, it is important to know that raw eel’s blood is poisonous to humans. With that being said, it should always be cooked before being served.

In order to clean it, you will need to first remove the scales and open the fish to remove the internal organs. It should then be washed with clean water before cooking.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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