Ever caught an eel? Remember the dismay when the snake-like figure surfaced? And then the struggle to unhook that slimy creature while trying to hang on to it with the other hand? We take eels for granted but they actually have a very interesting life story.
Let’s start with the female eel who lays her eggs in the Atlantic ocean, yes not in your favorite lake or river. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a female American eel will spawn between two and twenty million eggs at sea. It’s believed that the females die shortly afterwards.
The eggs hatch into larvae. Over the next year the larvae goes through metamorphosis and are called glass eels by the time they reach the North American shore. As the eelsÂ become pigmented and move into the streams and estuaries, they are known as elvers. At this stage they are about two to three inches long. For the next few years these elvers will continue to migrate upstream and replace older eels who returned to the ocean for spawning. They will live in their freshwater habitat anywhere from 5 to 20 years before returning to the ocean to spawn and complete the lifecycle.
You may also have heard about yellow eels and silver eels. These are both stages in the metamorphosis of the eel. Yellow eels are younger eels not yet ready for reproduction. Once they start migrating back to sea, they change in color and are appropriately called silver eels.
Read about my first encounter with an American Eel.