Hinterland Who’s Who

Scientific Name Anguilla rostrata

- Text by Annie Langlois Illustrati­on by Ashley Barron

American Eel


American Eels need a bunch of different habitats to survive! They hatch from eggs in the Atlantic Ocean in a warm, calm spot called the Sargasso Sea. As they grow up, they start migrating towards the east coast of the United States and Canada. Sometimes, they stop in brackish water (a mix of salt water and fresh water) close to the ocean, but some others swim further inland in rivers (like the Ottawa River). That’s a journey of up 5,500 kilometres! After as many as 50 years in their freshwater or brackish water habitat, they become adults and are ready to migrate back to the ocean. When they’ve arrived back where they were born, they have their young and die.


An eel’s diet changes as it grows and matures. In its earliest stage, as a larva, it eats particles in the water. As it grows older, throughout its migration, it starts feeding on the small larvae of insects or other invertebra­tes. When it reaches its main habitat, where it spends most of its life, an American Eel becomes a nocturnal omnivore, hunting at night for fish, molluscs, crustacean­s, insects, worms and plants. For much of its life, crayfish are its preferred prey. It generally chooses small prey that can be easily attacked, and it is considered a top predator in the food chain. It stops feeding during the winter and once it becomes sexually mature and is ready to migrate back to the ocean.

Size and colour

Even if eels look a bit like slimy snakes, eels are actually long, slender fish! They can grow more than one metre long and weigh 7.5 kilograms. Male eels tend to be a bit shorter than females. Their colour and shape change a lot during their complex life cycle: they are born as transparen­t, willow-shaped larvae, turn cream or yellow as they grow and end up silver-coloured right before adulthood. Adult eels are olive green and brown to greenish-yellow, with a light grey or white belly.

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