About Eels

Eels are mystical and mysterious but fascinating creatures that belong to the animal kingdom’s order Anguilliformes and the family Anguillidae. They are characterized by their elongated, snake-like bodies and lack of pelvic fins. 

Diving into the world of eels might make you a little squeamish, but take a moment to explore their various types, feeding habits, reproduction, lifespan, unique characteristics, and you might become more intrigued by these amazing creatures..

Popular Eels:

There are approximately 800 known species of eels found worldwide. Some of the most popular types include the American eel, European eel, Japanese eel, and the electric eel.  Here is a quick glimpse into these popular species:

Moray Eel: The moray eel is a large species known for its elongated body, sharp teeth, and snake-like appearance. It inhabits tropical and subtropical waters and hides within crevices and coral reefs. Moray eels are carnivorous predators, feeding on small fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

Japanese Eel: The Japanese eel, also called the freshwater eel or unagi, is a migratory species found in East Asia. It has a slender body and can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length. Japanese eels have a unique life cycle that involves spawning in the ocean and then migrating to freshwater rivers to mature.

American Eel: The American eel is a species native to North America, ranging from freshwater rivers to the Atlantic Ocean. It has a snake-like body with a mucus coating, allowing it to move efficiently through water and across land. American eels undertake long migrations to spawn in the Sargasso Sea.

European Eel: The European eel is a migratory species that spans across Europe, North Africa, and parts of western Asia. It has a slender, snake-like body with a silver-gray coloration. European eels have a remarkable life cycle, where they hatch in the ocean, migrate to freshwater rivers to grow, and then return to the ocean to spawn.

Electric Eel: The electric eel is a unique species found in South America’s rivers and streams. It has a long, cylindrical body and is capable of generating powerful electric shocks. These shocks are primarily used for navigation, communication, and hunting prey. Electric eels can reach lengths of up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) and are known for their remarkable electrical abilities.

Each of these eel species possesses distinct characteristics and adaptations that enable them to thrive in their respective habitats. From the secretive moray eel to the electric eel’s shocking abilities, these fascinating creatures add diversity to the world of aquatic life.

Eels can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from freshwater rivers and lakes to the deep ocean.

Unique Characteristics of Eels:

Eels possess several unique characteristics that set them apart. One notable feature is their ability to generate electric shocks. Electric eels, found in South America, use these shocks to navigate, communicate, and stun their prey. 

Additionally, eels have a slippery mucus coating on their bodies, which helps them move smoothly through water and protects them from parasites.


Eels are intriguing creatures with a wide range of species and adaptations. Their unique life cycle, diverse feeding habits, and distinct characteristics make them an important part of aquatic ecosystems. 

Whether lurking in freshwater rivers or exploring the depths of the ocean, eels captivate our imagination and remind us of the incredible diversity found in the animal kingdom.

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Types of Eels

Electric Eel

Electric eels are not actual eels but a type of knifefish. These remarkable creatures can generate electric shocks for hunting, navigation, and communication, thanks to specialized cells called electrocytes.

Moray Eel

Moray eels are elongated, serpentine fish found in warm, tropical waters. These secretive predators have sharp teeth, a second set of jaws called pharyngeal jaws, and often lurk in reef crevices.


1. What are the largest and smallest eels in the world?

The largest species of eel is the moray eel, which can reach lengths of up to 10 feet (3 meters) or more. 

On the other hand, the smallest species is the dwarf eel, which typically measures only a few inches in length.

2. What do eels eat?

Eels are carnivorous and have diverse feeding habits depending on their species and habitat. Most eels are opportunistic predators, feeding on small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and even other eels. Some eels are even known to scavenge on carrion.

3. How do eels reproduce (Life Cycle)

Eels have a unique life cycle that involves both freshwater and saltwater environments. They start their lives as transparent, leaf-shaped larvae called leptocephali. These larvae drift in the ocean currents for several months or even years before transforming into glass eels. 

The glass eels then migrate back to freshwater rivers and lakes, where they mature into adult eels and reproduce.

4. How long do eels live (Lifespan)?

The lifespan of eels varies among species. Most eel species live for around 10 to 30 years. However, there are exceptional cases where certain eel species, such as the European eel, can live up to 50 years or more.

5. What is the difference between eels and sea snakes?

While eels and sea snakes may share a similar elongated body shape, they belong to different animal groups. Eels are fish belonging to the order Anguilliformes, whereas sea snakes are reptiles from the family Elapidae.

Unlike eels, sea snakes have a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming and spend their entire lives in the ocean.

  • Burnie, David & Wilson, Don, Animal, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
  • Hickman et al, Integrated Principle of Zoology, McGraw Hill, Boston.