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Eel life history

viviparus was the “mother of eels” (the translation of the
German name "Aalmutter").

1 Past studies of eels
In 1777, the Italian Carlo Mondini located an eel’s gonads
and demonstrated that eels are a kind of fish. In 1876,
as a young student in Austria, Sigmund Freud dissected
hundreds of eels in search of the male sex organs. He had
to concede failure in his first major published research
paper, and turned to other issues in frustration.[1][2][3][4]
Larval eels — transparent, leaflike two-inch (five-cm)
creatures of the open ocean — were not generally recognized as such until 1893; instead, they were thought
to be a separate species, Leptocephalus brevirostris (from
the Greek leptocephalus meaning “thin- or flat-head”). In
1886, however, the French zoologist Yves Delage discovered the truth when he kept leptocephali alive in a laboratory tank in Roscoff until they matured into eels, and in
1896 Italian zoologist Giovanni Battista Grassi confirmed
the finding when he observed the transformation of a
Leptocephalus into a round glass eel in the Mediterranean
Sea. (He also observed that salt water was necessary to
support the maturation process.) Although the connection between larval eels and adult eels is now well understood, the name leptocephalus is still used for larval eel.

Distribution and size of leptocephali larvae of the European eel,
Anguilla anguilla

2 Search for the spawning grounds

Distribution and size of leptocephali larvae of the American eel,
Anguilla rostrata

The eel is a long, thin bony fish of the order
Anguilliformes. Because fishermen never caught anything they recognized as young eels, the life cycle of the
eel was a mystery for a very long period of scientific
history. Although more than 6500 publications mention
eels, much of their life history remains an enigma.
The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) was historically
the one most familiar to Western scientists, beginning
with Aristotle, who wrote the earliest known inquiry
into the natural history of eels. He speculated that they Leptocephalus larva of an ocean eel
were born of “earth worms”, which he believed were
formed of mud, growing from the “guts of wet soil”
rather than through sexual reproduction. Many centuries 2.1 European eel
passed before scientists were able to demonstrate that
such spontaneous generation does not occur in nature.
The Danish professor Johannes Schmidt, beginning in
Other early scientists believed that the eelpout Zoarces 1904, led a series of expeditions into the Mediterranean
1

[5] The term typically refers to a transdays to reach the Sargasso Sea from around Scotland and parent glass eel of the family Anguillidae. Glass eels typically refers to the Baltic. where he caught the smallest eel.How the adults make the 6. but finally the transmitter signals were lost at the between the leptocephalus stage and the juvenile (elver) continental shelf when the batteries ran out. and feed on creatures such as small crustaceans.[6] The external features undergo other dramatic changes. tion. In fresh water. they are called yellow eels because of their golden pigmentation. they migrate up rivers and streams. These freshwater eels spawn in the ocean. At this stage. Haiti. He noted that all the leptocephali he found were very similar. south of Bermuda. and grow to 75–90 mm within The German fisheries biologist Friedrich Wilhelm Tesch. (Glass eels are a food item in Spain. They can propel themselves over wet grass and dig through wet sand to reach upstream headwaters and ponds. so a silver eel would need 140 to 150 full pigmentation”.) Once they recruit to coastal areas. After 10 to 14 years. The elvers grow larger and are referred to as yellow eels. open-ocean on the size distribution of the leptocephali he collected: migration. the skin is still transparent and the red gills and the heart are visible. they have matured and grown to a length of 60 to 80 cm. He also ob. crossing wet grasslands at night to reach rivers that lead to the sea. before they reach the coasts of Euan eel expert and author of the book The Eel (ISBN 0rope. across the Atlantic Ocean. the smaller the leptocephali he caught were. some individuals mature and migrate back towards the sea. they develop pigmentation. As the glass eels enter fresh waters. Eel migration out of their freshwater growth habitats from various parts of Europe. then along the coasts of Norway and Engan intermediary stage in the eel’s complex life history land. The exthrough the Baltic Sea in the Danish belts.700 mi) open scended from a common ancestor species. Glass eels are defined as “all developmental stages to Schmidt. and insects. or Sea and the North Atlantic to investigate eels. he went. worms. in England. In a 1922 expedition. which are the juvenile stage of eels before their reproductive maturation begins. first down parency of their bodies.energy alone. According stage. turn into elvers (young eels). their gut dissolves. length about 25 cm .2 Glass eels at the transition between ocean and fresh water. the larvae that had ever been seen. have been the peditions were largely financed by the Carlsberg Foundabasis of traditional fisheries with characteristic trapnets. By the time they leave the continent. ocean light. based ficult to see by predators during their long. and Puerto Rico remains unknown. Marine eels of the order Anguilliformes also have a leptocephalus stage. and hypothesized that they all must have de. he sailed as far as the Sargasso making feeding impossible. and likely pass through a stage similar to the anguillid glass eels. to or even find ready-to-spawn adult eels. but they are rarely seen in the ocean. length about 8 cm 2 SEARCH FOR THE SPAWNING GROUNDS tion of glass eels takes place (for deli food and stocking) is Epney. Eels in this so-called “recruitment” developmen632-06389-0).000 km (3. thus colonising the continent. they start to become pigmented and are typically referred to as elvers. overcoming various natural challenges — sometimes by piling up their bodies by the tens of thousands to climb over obstacles — and they reach even the smallest of creeks. he was able to decreate a countershading pattern which makes them difduce the following about the life history of the eel. as well: the eyes start to enlarge. on the Severn. so they have to rely on stored Sea. and the sides of their bodies turn silvery. In July. These migrating eels are typically called “silThe larvae of European eels travel with the Gulf Stream ver eels” or “big eyes”. and then enter estuaries as glass eels and swim upstream to live in fresh water during their juvenile growth phase. a travel speed in the ocean of 15 km per day from completion of leptocephalus metamorphosis until can be assumed. in about 165 to 175 when leaving from the English ChanOne well-known location in which the large-scale collecJuvenile eels.ocean journey back to their spawning grounds north of served that the farther out to sea in the Atlantic Ocean the Antilles. eye pigments change for optimal vision in dim blue clear Although Schmidt did not directly observe eel spawning. one to three years. conducted many expeditions with hightal stage are known as glass eels because of the transtech instrumentation to follow eel migration.

Glass eel on the online in situ microscope at the LEO project 2. In New Jersey. anguilla. and in the number of vertebrae. dealers from China alone placed advance orders for more than 250. depth. After spawning in the Sargasso Sea and moving to the west. European demand for eels could not be met for the first time ever. Asian elvers have sold in Hong Kong for as much as $5. up in some of the Southern African river systems and then [10] Tesch — like Schmidt — kept trying to persuade spon. A. and dealers from Asia bought all they could. the price for a kilogram of glass eel went up another US$30.000 after they leave an Asian fish farm. Anguilla japonica. has also been precisely located to be to the west of the Suruga seamount[8] and their leptocephali are then transported to the west to East Asia by the North Equatorial Current.000 kg. and with some spawning by the American eel possibly even occurring off the Yucatán Peninsula off the Gulf of Mexico. A. mossambica. and temperature to satellite receivers.[11] Such a kilogram. and A. rostrata apparently being more westward than A. Furthermore. but this has not been confirmed.000 to $6. with transmitters that would detach from the eels each 3 Decline of the glass eels second day. The traditional European stocking programs could not compete any longer: each week. some bidding more than $1. In 1997.3 nel. Japanese scientists discovered and caught matured adult eels of A. japonica and A.[9] Southern Africa’s four species of freshwater eels (A. The spawning grounds for the two species are in an overlapping area of the southern Sargasso Sea. marmorata) have a very interesting migratory pattern.3 Japanese eel The spawning area of the Japanese eel. It takes them on a long journey from their spawning grounds in the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar to high Glass eel No one yet knows the reasons. Data from Maine and other North American coasts showed similar declines. Anguilla rostrata. consisting of 5000 glass eels.000 a kilogram at times when $1. 2. even today. bicolor bicolor. His proposal was to release 50 silver eels from Danish waters. He also suggested that countries on the western side of the Atlantic could perform a similar release experiment at the same time. the leptocephali of the American eel exit the Gulf Stream earlier than the European eel and begin migrating into the estuaries along the east coast of North America between February and late April at an age around one year and a length around 60 mm. but they differ in chromosome count and various molecular genetic markers. although not as drastic. with A. glass eel arrival in the spring dropped drastically — in Germany to 10% and in France to 14% of their previous levels — from even conservative estimates. and broadcast their position. but beginning in the mid1980s.000 would buy the same amount of American glass eels at their catching sites. sors to provide more funding for expeditions. in June and August 2008. Even before the 1997 generation hit the coasts of Europe. First it was believed European and American eels were the same species due to their similar appearance and behavior. over 2000 licences for glass eel catch were issued and reports of 38 kg per . only preliminary experiments along these lines have ever been performed. may bring at least $60.100 per kg. rostrata 103 to 110.back again to the ocean off Madagascar. float up toward the surface. marmorata in the West Mariana Ridge. However. bengalensis labiata.000 and as much as $150. A. Migration was mapped in 2016.2 American eel Another Atlantic eel species is known: the American eel.[7] Knowledge of what happens to individual silver eels after they leave the continental shelf is based solely on the study of three eels found in the stomachs of deepsea fishes and whales — caught off the coasts of Ireland and the Azores — and on laboratory research into the physiology of eels. anguilla counting 110 to 119 and A.

New high-tech eel aquaculture plants are appearing in Asia. Karen (1993) Think of an Eel..de. In Europe. “Der Aal im Nationalsozialismus”. "Beobachtungen über Gestaltung und feineren Bau der als Hoden beschriebenen Lappenorgane des Aals" ["Observations on the configuration and finer structure of the lobed organs in eels described as testes"].. as of 2003.de. Retrieved 2013-07-16. pp. As soon as nal on December 24.W. this parasite was shown to inhibit the function of the swimbladder as a hydrostatic organ. third edition. Nature 439(7079): 929 [9] Chow. 1995. Traditional eel aquaculture operations rely on wild-caught elvers. Kurogi. Wno. Reading Freud’s Reading. Kul- [5] Tesh F. Published by Blackwell Science. Kaji. 6 References [1] Freud.new tools in environmental education. Ross (2007). 4 Threats to eels Strong concerns exist that the European eel population might be devastated by a new threat: Anguillicola crassus. S. Retrieved 2012-01-04. Since the 1970s. Blackwell Science. As the European eels become less available. Since 1995. [2] “Was dachten Nazis über den Aal? | Archiv . (23 February 2006). with detrimental effects on the native Japanese eel. Web. Retrieved 2012-01-04. Mochioka. Okazaki. 2000-12-03. most likely due to uncontrolled aquaculture eel shipments. a foreign parasitic nematode. an increasing number of eel [10] Jim Cambray: African freshwater eels . Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. A. Gilman. 2011. dams and other river obstructions can block their ability to reach inland feeding grounds. Sigmund.Berliner Zeitung” (in German).. see Ursula Reidel-Schrewe “Freud’s Début in the Sciences” in: Sander L. 75. Archived from the origimigration with an online in situ microscope. . Germany imported more than $50 million worth of eels in 2002. Freud’s study was in response to Szymon Syrski's book Ueber die Reproductions-Organe der Aale (1874). Walker Books (UK) . In Europe. Tsukamoto. doi:10. Fisheries Science. it also appeared in the United States (Texas and South Carolina). an ongoing project monitors the glass eel [11] “Demand for Baby Eels Brings High Prices and Limits”... Retrieved 11 October 2016. The demand for adult eels has continued to grow. M.. 25 million kg are consumed each year. Jutta Birmele. Retrieved 2013-07-16. K.[12] As open ocean voyagers. Eggs from these treated eels have a diameter of about 1 mm. In New Jersey. worldwide interest in American eels has increased dramatically.1007/s12562-008-0017-5 Because the eels are catadromous (living in fresh water but spawning in the sea). turkurier. more than 100 million kg were consumed in 1996. This parasite from East Asia (the original host is A.Children’s picture book describing the life cycle of the eel. Website: Science in Africa. Greenwood Press. 1996 (LEO) site. p. 1 . Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals. S. 2003.408pp. H.org. 2004-10-20. but experimental hormone treatments in Japan have led to artificially spawned eels. 2002. • Wallace.4 7 FURTHER READING night and fisherman have been made. eels need the carrying capacity of the swimbladder (which makes up 3–6% of the eel’s body weight) to cross the ocean on stored energy alone. japonica. although the average catch is closer to 1 kg. but in Japan alone. 419 (1877). NYU Press. and each female can produce 2 to 10 million eggs. “Discovery of mature freshwater eels in the open ocean”. [8] Tsukamoto K.). more funding becomes available. Recently. F-W (2003) The eel. 408 pages [6] Piper. 7 Further reading 5 See also • Eel ladder • Fish migration • Tesch.org. Oceanic biology: spawning of eels near a seamount. The eel. Berlinonline. 1–22. April ladders have been constructed in North America and Eu2004 rope to help the fish bypass obstructions. 75: 257– 259. it will be possible to log in to the system via a Longterm Ecological Observatory [12] Wuertz et al. Vol. Jay Geller. japonica) appeared in European eel populations in the early 1980s. eel populations are already from 30% to 100% infected with the nematode. [4] “Sigmund Freud und der Aal” (in German). (2009). Oxford (UK). Valerie D Greenberg (eds. [7] “Empirical observations of the spawning migration of European eels: The long and dangerous road to the Sargasso Sea”. Archived from the original on December 17. [3] FH.archive. N. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Classe.

Birdsong. and Lynne R. eds. Edward O. Keith.. eds. American Fisheries Society. Ser. Fourth Edition. 2001. Washington. 1998. American Fisheries Society. 162-176. Fishery statistics. Trans. Paris: MNHN. Soc. • Fish. Jr. and E. 98 p. 212-230. Richard C. vol 13. Publ. F. American Fisheries Society. • FAO (1997).L. Bertelsen (1992). U. Bailey. (38). Robert N. Gilbert. DC. C. Trinidad and Tobago. Lea. Anguillidae. et al. Maryland. Vol. Fish. New York. Ray (1986). Baltimore. 174.A. Brooker. Meunier. Florida. Clavijo (1975). 1. • Nelson. Houghton Mifflin Company. and J.P. Nuuk. p. American Fisheries Society Special Publication. Atuakkiorfik. Fischer (ed. American Fisheries Society Special Publication. (eds. J. In W. 55-70.J.) Ciba Foundation Colloquium on Ageing: the life span of animals. • Ogden. (1997). Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals. Musick 1997. Edwin J. • Smith. (1978). University Press of Florida.S. biology and management of exotic fishes.E. Mowbray (1970). Jr. International Game Fish Association. Rome. • Claro. and B. ISBN 1-56098-638-7. Kenyon C. no. 12. Brooker. Sixth Edition. 9. Bethesda. • Piper. USA. D. and James D. and Noël. Héctor Espinosa-Pérez. Carl E. Patrimoines Naturels. with special reference to those kept in the New York Aquarium. (2002). • Eschmeyer. Bethesda. USA. Bailey. No. A List of Common and Scientific Names of Fishes from the United States and Canada. Richard C. James R. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Exotic fishes in Puerto Rico. Lachner. Lloyd T. (1984). 2004. (1994). Reeve M. and I. USA. In G. USA. J. Carter R. Baltimore. Carl E. Lindeman. p. Joseph. 29.. • Food and Agriculture Organization (1992). Churchill.W. and W. Aquaculture production statistics 1986–1995. 3. Burr (1991). Alfred A. 174. FAO Stat.S. The Johns Hopkins Press. USA. Rodolfo. Washington. C. Longevity of fishes in captivity.. and John A.) Distribution.A. Findley.F. Smithsonian Institution Press. Florida. 1980. 432 p. Atlas des poissons et des crustacés d'eau douce de la Martinique. C.. Canada. Spec. 311 p.. 2905.. et al. 1980. Fishes of Chesapeake Bay. James R. 815. St. Sounds of Western North Atlantic fishes. Maracas. An annotated list of the fishes of St. R. [pag. American Fisheries Society Special Publication.E Thomerson (1997).R.H. Boston.R. volume 1. R. FAO Fish.5 • Wenner. In R. Bethesda. Bond. and Mexico. Migrating American eels in Nova Scotia. William N. Bond.. P. Claro (ed.. 12. Stauffer. Reeve M. Crossman.S. World record game fishes.C. and G. Characterísticas generales de la ictiofauna. 51: 120p. (1959). the Gulf of Mexico. National Audubon Society field guide to tropical marine fishes of the Caribbean. A reference file of biological underwater sounds. p. 116:161170.A. Maryland. M. Ser. Julian S. • International Game Fish Association (1991). Ray S. USA. ISBN 1-56098-985-8.) FAO species identification sheets for fishery purposes.Y. Parenti / Claro. West Atlantic (Fishing Area 31). DC. Circ. Greenwood Press. Smithsonian Institution Press.. the Bahamas. A field guide to Atlantic coast fishes of North America. no. Courtney.) Ecología de . Catalog of Fishes. Special Publication of the Center for Biodiversity Research and Information. J. • Greenfield. no. P. Ernest A. R. Croix. California Academy of Sciences. 65 s. • Erdman.M. A List of Common and Scientific Names of Fishes from the United States and Canada. ix + 386. FAO. Chapter 2: The Marine Ichthyofauna of Cuba.C.R.W and J. R (2007). • Claro. Williams.M. California. ISBN 0-940228-47-5. In W. Kenny. 21-57. • Page. var. Ecology of the Marine Fishes of Cuba. Ernest A. ed. San Francisco. • Robins. • Nielsen. 720 p. Wolstehnolmen and M. Maryland. Johns Hopkins University Press. Rodolfo. • Murdy.S. Boston. Fisk i grønlandske farvande. Houghton Mifflin Company. Joseph S. Amer. L. • Kenny.. • Nigrelli. Florida. London. Lachner. • Jessop. Yntema. J. USA. 354 p. xi + 324. B. 5. Knopf. and Bermuda. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States. P. Catches and landings.M. FAO yearbook 1990. (1995). no. D. 70:(105):647 p. Fishes of the continental waters of Belize. Parenti. • Lim. and L. Virgin Islands. Inc. O'Connor (eds.G.]. 195 p. ISBN 1-888569-61-1. Views from the bridge: a memoir on the freshwater fishes of Trinidad. FAO Fish. • Robins. Fourth Edition. USA. • Robins. (1987). Rev. U.

H. W. and W. R. J.M. Territories.C. C. • Banks.S. San José Costa Rica: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica. (1939). 2nd edition. Austin. Gardner. L. B. A list of Barbadian fishes. Starnes 2003. • Böhlke. (1998). R. W.G.. 7(1):17-31. Peces de las aguas continentales de Costa Rica [Freshwater fishes of Costa Rica]. Fishes of the Bahamas and adjacent tropical waters. Checklist of Vertebrates of the United States. Chaplin (1993). J.6 8 los peces marinos de Cuba.K Glass Eels — a large commercial firm’s website. A. • Butsch. 2nd Ed. with history and fact pages • Projekt eelBASE EXTERNAL LINKS . • Bussing. University of Texas Press. and Canada.E. R. 8 External links • The Maine Eel and Elver Fishery Maine Department of Marine Resources • Fishbase entry for Anguilla anguilla • Fishbase entry for Anguilla rostrata • ICES report about eel stock collapse • U. McDiarmid. the U.S. C. 468 p. Instituto de Oceanología Academia de Ciencias de Cuba and Centro de Investigaciones de Quintana Roo.S. and C.A.

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