Text Size: A  A  A

American Eel

Anguilla rostrata

American eels spend most of their lives in fresh and brackish tributaries, including streams, creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds. (Claude Nozeres, World Register of Marine Species)
{photos} {photo} {title} - {description} {/photo} {/photos}
American eels spend most of their lives in fresh and brackish tributaries, including streams, creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds. (Claude Nozeres, World Register of Marine Species)

The American eel is a smooth, snake-like fish with a greenish, yellowish-brown or blackish body. It lives in rivers, streams and other freshwater areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Greenish, yellowish-brown or blackish body
  • Whitish belly
  • Rounded tail
  • Continuous fin stretching around the tail from the back to the belly
  • Males grow to 2 feet long and females grow 3-5 feet long

Habitat:

  • Spends most of its life in fresh and brackish tributaries, including streams, creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds
  • Some may live in the Bay’s shallow waters
  • Active at night. During the day, eels usually hide under a rock or bury themselves in bottom sediments.

Range:

  • Common throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Feeding:

  • Eats worms, small fish, clams and other mollusks, and crustaceans such as soft-shelled crabs
  • Feeds at night

Predators:

  • Larger fish
  • Fish-eating birds such as gulls, eagles and ospreys

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Eels are catadromous, meaning they live in freshwater rivers and spawn in the ocean
  • In October, sexually mature eels swim out of the Bay to the Sargasso Sea, an area of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas. In January, the eels spawn there, then die.
  • Tiny eel larvae drift in the ocean for 9-12 months. During this time, larvae transform to the “glass eel” stage. Ocean currents carry the transparent glass eels thousands of miles to the U.S. coast.
  • Before entering the Bay, the glass eels become pigmented. These brown eels, called elvers, are only about 2.4 inches long.
  • Some elvers stay in the Bay, but most continue to swim many miles up the Bay’s rivers to fresh water
  • After a few months, the elvers transform into the adult “yellow eel” stage
  • Adults remain in freshwater rivers and streams for the majority of their lives. Once they reach sexual maturity, they return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die.
  • Usually lives for at least five years. Some eels can reach 15-20 years old.

Other Facts:

  • The only catadromous fish in the Bay region
  • During their migration up the Bay’s rivers and streams, American eels overcome multiple obstacles to reach their destination. They can slide over rocks, dams, wet grass and other seemingly impassable blockages.
  • Some people think that eels are snakes, but they are actually fish
  • Although many Americans think eels are slimy and gross, in Asia and Europe they are considered a delicacy. Most of the eels caught in the Bay region are exported overseas.

Sources and Additional Information:




Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved