Interesting Facts about European Eels (2024)

European Eels, mysterious and enigmatic creatures, have meandered through the waters of Europe for eons. These elongated fish, with their ability to both captivate and perplex scientists, have been the subject of many studies, tales, and legends.

Rich in history and ecological significance, the European Eel offers a captivating dive into the depths of marine biology. Let’s embark on this enlightening journey and uncover the secrets of this magnificent creature. There are a lot of interesting facts about European Eels that you should know.

50 Interesting Facts about European Eels

  1. European Eels can travel up to 6,000 kilometers during their lifetime.
  2. They’re scientifically known as Anguilla Anguilla.
  3. These eels can live up to 80 years, though the average lifespan is around 15 years.
  4. They possess a snake-like body, making them agile swimmers.
  5. European Eels are catadromous, meaning they live in freshwater but migrate to the sea to breed.
  6. They can absorb oxygen through their skin, aiding their survival in low-oxygen waters.
  7. The eels undergo multiple life stages: leptocephalus, glass eel, elver, yellow eel, and silver eel.
  8. European Eels can bury themselves in mud and hibernate during cold months.
  9. They’ve been a culinary delicacy in Europe for centuries.
  10. Sadly, their population has seen a drastic decline in recent decades.
  11. Young eels are transparent and are termed “glass eels.”
  12. The migration pattern of European Eels remains one of nature’s greatest mysteries.
  13. Their ability to produce electric shocks is a myth; that’s electric eels!
  14. European Eels can cover 20 kilometers a day during migration.
  15. They can switch between saltwater and freshwater environments seamlessly.
  16. The eels can sense changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, aiding their migration.
  17. Their diet varies with age, from plankton for young eels to insects and fish for adults.
  18. European Eels have tiny, razor-sharp teeth.
  19. They’re nocturnal and are more active during the night.
  20. Aristotle believed European Eels emerged from the mud, being born of “earth’s guts.”
  21. They’re a popular dish in the UK, especially as jellied eels.
  22. European Eels play a crucial role in aquatic food chains.
  23. Despite their slender appearance, they’re powerful swimmers.
  24. They have a unique respiratory system, featuring a single, long lung.
  25. European Eels have been known to climb, using their bodies to maneuver around obstacles.
  26. They’ve inspired many folk tales and songs, especially in coastal European communities.
  27. Each eel has a unique pattern on its dorsal fin, similar to a human fingerprint.
  28. They can survive out of water for a short duration.
  29. European Eels use tidal currents to aid their migration.
  30. Glass eels are often harvested for food, leading to ecological concerns.
  31. Their skin secretes a slimy substance, making them hard to grasp.
  32. European Eels have been part of many ecological and migration studies.
  33. They can detect predators using lateral line sensors on their bodies.
  34. European Eels are known to venture into wet grasslands, hunting for suitable prey.
  35. They have a strong sense of smell, guiding them towards food.
  36. Over their lifetime, European Eels undergo significant color changes.
  37. Historical records show they’ve been commercially valuable since Roman times.
  38. European Eels can regenerate parts of their body, including their heart.
  39. They have a unique way of swimming, known as anguilliform locomotion.
  40. The Guinness World Record for the heaviest European Eel is 6.5 kg.
  41. Their taste buds are located not just in their mouths, but also on their lips and pharynx.
  42. They face threats from parasites, like the invasive swim bladder worm.
  43. European Eels often rest during the day, buried in sand or mud.
  44. They have been found at depths of up to 4,000 meters in the ocean.
  45. European Eels, due to their life cycle, help in nutrient transfer across marine and freshwater ecosystems.
  46. Many eels are left-handed, with their right pectoral fin slightly smaller than the left.
  47. Their blood can be toxic to humans if ingested.
  48. Some European Eels never migrate to the sea and spend their entire life in freshwater.
  49. They have a keen sense of vision, with eyes that adapt to various lighting conditions.
  50. European Eels play a significant role in European folklore as creatures of mystery and transformation.

Brief Overview of European Eels


Originating from the vast Atlantic Ocean, European Eels have a widespread distribution that spans several countries. They have been part of Europe’s aquatic landscape for millions of years, coexisting with ancient civilizations and modern societies alike. Their evolutionary journey traces back to the time of the dinosaurs, with fossil records indicating their ancient lineage.

Popular Breeds

European Eels represent a single species, Anguilla anguilla. However, they exhibit a vast range of physical differences throughout their life stages, often leading to confusion regarding different “breeds” or types. Each stage, from glass eels to the mature silver eels, has distinct features and habits.

Physical Features

Sporting a long, snake-like body, European Eels are easily recognizable. Their dorsal fin extends more than halfway down their back, merging with a similarly lengthy anal fin. Depending on their age and life stage, their color can range from transparent to yellowish-brown and then to a mature silver hue. Their sharp teeth and small eyes give them a unique appearance.


Primarily freshwater dwellers, European Eels inhabit a wide range of environments, including rivers, lakes, and ponds. They often prefer areas with dense underwater vegetation, providing them protection from predators. Remarkably adaptive, these eels can also thrive in brackish waters and occasionally venture into saltwater during their migratory journeys.


These carnivorous creatures have a diverse palate. Younger eels, or elves, predominantly feed on plankton. As they grow, their diet expands to include insects, worms, and smaller fish. The adult eels are opportunistic feeders, preying on whatever is available in their environment.


One of the most fascinating aspects of the European Eels is their unique reproductive migration. Mature eels undertake an incredible journey to the Sargasso Sea for breeding. Post-breeding, the adult eels typically die, leaving behind their offspring, which then embark on the return migration to European waters.

Economic Importance

Historically, European Eels have held significant economic value. They’ve been a popular culinary delicacy across Europe, especially in regions like the UK and Scandinavia. However, overfishing and ecological concerns have led to regulations and conservation efforts to protect their dwindling populations.

Human Interactions

Humans have interacted with European Eels for centuries, be it for food, sport, or research. Their mysterious migratory patterns have puzzled scientists for decades. While they are generally harmless, overfishing and habitat destruction by human activities have posed significant threats to their survival.

FAQs about European Eels and Answers

The world of the European Eel is truly fascinating. Here are some frequently asked questions to satiate your curiosity.

What’s the lifespan of a European Eel?

Typically, they can live up to 15 years, but some have been known to reach 80 years.

Where do European Eels migrate for breeding?

They undertake a long migration to the Sargasso Sea for breeding purposes.

Are European Eels endangered?

Yes, their numbers have declined drastically in recent years due to various factors, leading to conservation concerns.

How do European Eels navigate during migration?

They use the Earth’s magnetic field as a guide during their long migratory journeys.

Can European Eels survive in saltwater?

While they are primarily freshwater creatures, they can survive in saltwater, especially during migration.

What are the predators of European Eels?

Birds, larger fish, and some mammals prey on eels at various stages of their life.

How do European Eels reproduce?

After a long migration to the Sargasso Sea, they lay eggs. Once hatched, the young eels migrate back to European waters.

Is it safe to consume European Eels?

Yes, they are a popular delicacy in many European countries. However, overfishing concerns have led to regulations on their harvest.

How do European Eels breathe?

Like other fish, they use gills to extract oxygen from water. However, they can also absorb a small amount of oxygen through their skin.

Why are young European Eels called “glass eels”?

Young eels are transparent, giving them the appearance of glass, hence the name.



The European Eel, with its myriad mysteries and captivating lifecycle, stands as a testament to the wonders of the aquatic world. Their journey, from European rivers to the vast stretches of the Sargasso Sea, is nothing short of epic.

As we continue to unravel the interesting facts about European Eels and their secrets, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of conservation and sustainable interactions, ensuring that these magnificent creatures thrive for generations to come.

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