What Does an American Eel Eat?

Written by in Fishing
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

American eels are interesting creatures; they’re like fish but they’re technically not fish. 

I would have thought that American eels eat the same thingsas fish in the same way because of their similarities, but it turns out I was wrong.

So what does an American eel eat? American eels are carnivores that have an extensive diet including insects, fish, fish eggs, crabs, worms, clams, and frogs, as well as dead animal matter.

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Most people would assume that eels, being relatively small creatures, would spend their time hiding from the larger things that might try to eat them. 

However, this could not be further from the truth. 

Keep reading to find out what kind of animals American eels eat and how they do it.

What And How do American Eels Eat?

American Eel Base Diet:

  • Worms
  • Small fish
  • Clams
  • Mollusks
  • Crustaceans
  • Soft-shelled crabs

The wide variety of foods that are included in an American Eel’s diet is surprising to a lot of people. When sea creatures are brought up, especially the small ones like fish, eels, and seahorses, they are not presumed to be avid hunters. In fact, many people assume that these types of animals will follow a vegetarian diet of seaweed and algae.

Eels do most of their feeding at night, as they are nocturnal animals. 

This is when they do most of their swimming as well. 

American eels also feed on worms, small fish, clams and other mollusks, and crustaceans such as soft-shelled crabs.

The size of their prey depends on their body size. 

Their diet also adapts to seasonal changes and the immediate environment as feeding greatly decreases during the winter. These carnivores have a lot on their menu and the underwater creatures they are surrounded by must keep a sharp eye out for the hungry eel.

The foods that an American Eel eats comes with an interesting way of eating as well, due to their weak jaws and small teeth. 

With a snake-like outside appearance, American eels are just as unique on the inside when it comes to their eating patterns.

Due to the strange structure of the jaws and teeth, the American eel has developed an interesting way of eating to compensate for their shortcomings.

If they come across food that cannot be consumed whole or readily broken into pieces, this eating process involves holding onto the food with their mouth and then spinning their bodies to break apart their food.

If that doesn’t sound impressive, they have been recorded to do six to fourteen spins per second.

American eels also go through a change in their eating habits during their migration process. 

They go through a gradual metamorphosis that allows them to go to the ocean. During this process, they change from shallow water bottom dwellers to ocean travelers.

During their journey into the open ocean, they actually do not eat at all. This information may come as a surprise, due to the fact that full grown American eels will eat almost anything they can fid.

Instead of eating during this stage, their gut begins to degenerate. Additionally, their eyes double in size to allow them to be able to see better in ocean water and have reduced loss of gas. 

These events occur to increase buoyancy and allow them to be able to move better as they transition into the ocean water.

Where do American Eels Eat?

When we talk about what an American eel eats, it’s important to understand where they live and hunt so we can get the full picture. 

First and foremost, American eels live along the Atlantic Coast all the way from Greenland, through Canada and the United States, all the way to Trinidad.

These animals prefer to live in the muddy bottoms of the calm bodies of water in which they live. 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 throughout their lifetimes. 

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.

Overall, the American eel is not the type of animal to remain in one kind of habitat. 

They move between fresh and ocean water up and down the east coast of North America where the animals, insects, fish, and crabs that they eat live. 

No matter where they migrate, they always find their way back to one place.

American Eel Patterns and Characteristics:

  • Live along the Atlantic Coast (from Greenland all the way south to the Caribbean)
  • They prefer to live in the muddy bottoms of water
  • Usually stay in calm bodies of water for most of their lives
  • Nocturnal animals
  • Migrate between freshwater and ocean water habitats

Do Any Other Animals Eat American Eels?

American eels eat a lot of things, from insects to fish, large animals like crabs. It is a well known fact, especially among those who fish for eels, that they will eat almost anything they come across. This includes the other animals and insects mentioned above, as well as plastic and waste that floats through the water.

While a lot of animals have a reason to look out for eels, eels have some enemies that they should look out for as well. 

The fact of the matter is that eels are not immune to being preyed on by larger and stronger animals.

In fact, the list of predators that target American Eels is almost as long as the list of other fish and animals that the eels eat themselves.

In a nutshell, it becomes a hierarchy of animals species, the large prey on the small, and the even larger prey on those that are smaller than them. This rule even applies to the same species, as some eels will hunt for and eat others that are accessible to them at the time.

Take a look at the lists below to discover the comparison between what American Eels eat, as well as what eats them.

What American Eels Eat:

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

Animals That Eat American Eels:

  • Other eels
  • Bald eagles
  • Gulls
  • Other fish-eating birds

In conclusion, American eels are interesting animals with a very versatile diet. Throughout their entire cycle of life, they will inevitably travel between different bodies of water and pick up different eating habits as a result.

Related Questions

Do American eels really eat other eels?

American eels have a wide variety of animals on their list of prey, and that includes their own species. The research is not very clear about why, but smaller eels might be eaten by larger eels either for lack of other food, or taste for one. The strong outlast the strong and an American eel will eat one of its own if it wants/needs to.

How do American Eel’s eating patterns change during migration?

The American eels usual eating habits begin when it settles along the Atlantic coast and begins to mature. However, toward the end of the American eels life when it reaches its silver eel stage, the eel will start to migrate back to where it was born, the Sargasso Sea, and while it travels through the ocean it stops eating completely.

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