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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

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

but beginning in the mid1980s. but they differ in chromosome count and various molecular genetic markers. the price for a kilogram of glass eel went up another US$30. 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. and broadcast their position.000 would buy the same amount of American glass eels at their catching sites. only preliminary experiments along these lines have ever been performed. Data from Maine and other North American coasts showed similar declines. depth. However.000 and as much as $150. 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. Asian elvers have sold in Hong Kong for as much as $5. and in the number of vertebrae. dealers from China alone placed advance orders for more than 250. with A. anguilla counting 110 to 119 and A. and A. even today. japonica and A.000 to $6.3 Japanese eel The spawning area of the Japanese eel. marmorata in the West Mariana Ridge. Even before the 1997 generation hit the coasts of Europe. 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.000 a kilogram at times when $1. European demand for eels could not be met for the first time ever. and dealers from Asia bought all they could. 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. The spawning grounds for the two species are in an overlapping area of the southern Sargasso Sea. may bring at least $60. over 2000 licences for glass eel catch were issued and reports of 38 kg per . Anguilla rostrata. Japanese scientists discovered and caught matured adult eels of A. with transmitters that would detach from the eels each 3 Decline of the glass eels second day. A. bengalensis labiata. and with some spawning by the American eel possibly even occurring off the Yucatán Peninsula off the Gulf of Mexico.2 American eel Another Atlantic eel species is known: the American eel.000 after they leave an Asian fish farm.[11] Such a kilogram.[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.3 nel. In 1997. up in some of the Southern African river systems and then [10] Tesch — like Schmidt — kept trying to persuade spon. He also suggested that countries on the western side of the Atlantic could perform a similar release experiment at the same time. Furthermore. A. anguilla. rostrata 103 to 110. marmorata) have a very interesting migratory pattern. Anguilla japonica. but this has not been confirmed. After spawning in the Sargasso Sea and moving to the west. The traditional European stocking programs could not compete any longer: each week. bicolor bicolor. consisting of 5000 glass eels. 2. Migration was mapped in 2016. some bidding more than $1. and temperature to satellite receivers. in June and August 2008.100 per kg. although not as drastic. A. First it was believed European and American eels were the same species due to their similar appearance and behavior.000 kg.back again to the ocean off Madagascar. In New Jersey. sors to provide more funding for expeditions. rostrata apparently being more westward than A. float up toward the surface.[9] Southern Africa’s four species of freshwater eels (A. mossambica. Glass eel on the online in situ microscope at the LEO project 2. His proposal was to release 50 silver eels from Danish waters.

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

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

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

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