Fisheries Program
Northeast Region
American eel
American eel

American eel (Anguilla rostrata)

Life History

Eels spend most of their life in freshwater. They migrate to the sea to spawn. Adults spawn in Sargasso Sea. Their eggs drift in the current, larva hatch from the eggs and gradually develop into glass eels. The glass eels migrate to freshwater streams.  Eels are thought to be the host fish for eastern elliptio (Elliptio complanata). Once the eel develops pigmentation it is called an elver. These elvers, or immature yellow eels, grow in freshwater for 8-23 years. When yellow eels mature, they change in shape and color and are labeled bronze or silver eels. They migrate to the ocean south of Bermuda to spawn and then scientists think that they die.


Greenland to Northeastern South America

Fun Facts

  • Eels can travel out of the water and across damp ground to bypass a dam.
  • They can climb nearly vertical moist surfaces like the face of a dam.
  • No one has ever seen eels spawn in the wild.
  • Male eels are half the size of female eels.
  • In freshwater, eels live on the bottom of streams and lakes under the gravel or in burrows.

More Information

American eel species profile (pdf - 1.25MB)
Migration of silver-phase and yellow-phase American eels in relation to hydroelectric damn on the Shenandoah River (pdf - 74KB)

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Last updated: December 16, 2011
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