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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

European Eel Anguilla anguilla

Living most of its life in fresh water, the European eel swims thousands of miles down to the sea and across the Atlantic Ocean to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. After spawning in deep water, the eels die, leaving the eggs to hatch into transparent, leaflike (leptocephalus) larvae. Over the next year or so, the larvae drift back to the coasts of Europe. Nearing the coast, they change shape and become tiny transparent eels, or elvers, that swim and wriggle their way up rivers into fresh water. The European eel is becoming increasingly scarce due to pressure on stocks caused by fishing and the damming of rivers.

European Eelzoom image
European Eelzoom image
  • Order Anguilliformes
  • Length Up to 4 ft (1.3 m)
  • Weight 14 lb (6.6 kg)
  • Depth 0–2,300 ft (0–700 m)
  • Distribution Temperate waters of northeastern Atlantic, fresh water inland
European Eel habitat mapzoom image