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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

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

back again to the ocean off Madagascar. consisting of 5000 glass eels. Asian elvers have sold in Hong Kong for as much as $5. but beginning in the mid1980s. up in some of the Southern African river systems and then [10] Tesch — like Schmidt — kept trying to persuade spon.000 to $6. The spawning grounds for the two species are in an overlapping area of the southern Sargasso Sea. A. A. even today. float up toward the surface. and with some spawning by the American eel possibly even occurring off the Yucatán Peninsula off the Gulf of Mexico. may bring at least $60. Anguilla rostrata. 2. and temperature to satellite receivers. bengalensis labiata. marmorata) have a very interesting migratory pattern. Data from Maine and other North American coasts showed similar declines. but they differ in chromosome count and various molecular genetic markers. 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. 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. some bidding more than $1. Even before the 1997 generation hit the coasts of Europe. European demand for eels could not be met for the first time ever. over 2000 licences for glass eel catch were issued and reports of 38 kg per . and A.3 Japanese eel The spawning area of the Japanese 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. Glass eel on the online in situ microscope at the LEO project 2.100 per kg. Anguilla japonica. Japanese scientists discovered and caught matured adult eels of A. and dealers from Asia bought all they could. First it was believed European and American eels were the same species due to their similar appearance and behavior.2 American eel Another Atlantic eel species is known: the American eel. anguilla counting 110 to 119 and A.[11] Such a kilogram. with A. However. in June and August 2008. rostrata 103 to 110. The traditional European stocking programs could not compete any longer: each week. and in the number of vertebrae. dealers from China alone placed advance orders for more than 250. Migration was mapped in 2016.000 and as much as $150.[9] Southern Africa’s four species of freshwater eels (A. only preliminary experiments along these lines have ever been performed. He also suggested that countries on the western side of the Atlantic could perform a similar release experiment at the same time.000 kg. with transmitters that would detach from the eels each 3 Decline of the glass eels second day. the price for a kilogram of glass eel went up another US$30. marmorata in the West Mariana Ridge. 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. sors to provide more funding for expeditions. In 1997. His proposal was to release 50 silver eels from Danish waters. A. anguilla.000 would buy the same amount of American glass eels at their catching sites. depth. 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. mossambica.000 after they leave an Asian fish farm. Furthermore. After spawning in the Sargasso Sea and moving to the west. and broadcast their position. japonica and A. but this has not been confirmed. rostrata apparently being more westward than A. although not as drastic.3 nel. bicolor bicolor. In New Jersey.

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

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

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

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