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19 Introduction Facts About Eels

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Eels are elongated fish belonging to the order Anguilliformes. With over 800 species across 20 families and 111 genera, they display an incredible diversity in size, appearance, and behavior.

Here are 19 interesting introductory facts about these peculiar creatures of both saltwater and freshwater habitats.

1. Eels Are Not Snakes

Although their slender, snake-like shape may suggest otherwise, eels are fish. They possess key fish features like gills, and fins, and lack the scales found on snakes. Some species even have small pectoral fins.

2. Their Bodies Are Perfectly Adapted for Tight Spaces

The eel’s elongated body shape allows it to easily maneuver through narrow gaps and crevices in search of food and shelter. This gives many species access to unique habitats.

3. Eels Use Undulation to Swim

Lacking a caudal fin, eels swim through water by generating waves that travel the length of their bodies. Some species can even swim backward by reversing the direction of the wave.

4. They Have Jawbones in Their Throats

Moray eels and other species have a second set of jaws in their throats, known as pharyngeal jaws, to help grab and swallow prey.

5. Some Release Electric Shocks

While not true eels, electric eels can generate powerful electric shocks to stun prey and defend themselves. These reach up to 860 volts!

6. Others Carry Deadly Venom

Certain reef-dwellers like the fangtooth and canine conger eels have venomous bites used to subdue hard-shelled prey.

7. They Have Four Nostrils

Most eel species have four nostrils, two for inhaling water and two for exhaling. This improves their sense of smell for detecting food.

8. Eels Are Mostly Carnivores

Feeding on fish, crustaceans, worms, and more, eels are primarily carnivorous. Some species like the swamp eel occasionally eat plants.

9. Only A Few Live In Fresh Water

While media often portray eels in rivers and lakes, only five families representing about 100 species occupy freshwater habitats.

10. Others Migrate From Salt To Fresh Water

Catadromous species like the European and American eel spawn in the ocean but migrate to fresh water to grow and mature.

11. They Have Complex Life Cycles

Many eels exhibit metamorphosis. For instance, American eels hatch into larvae before becoming glass eels, then elvers, then yellow eels, then silver eels.

12. The Longest Is Over 13 Feet!

The slender giant moray is the longest species, with confirmed individuals reaching over 13 ft. Most other eels reach only 1-5 feet in length.

13. Some Are Brightly Colored

While many eels appear drab gray or black, species like the snowflake moray have vibrant yellow patterns along a jet black body.

14. Several Are Critically Endangered

Due to factors like overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution, species such as the European eel are now critically endangered.

In Asian, European and other cuisines, freshwater eel is an especially prized delicacy, with some large individuals selling for over $1000.

16. Romans Farmed Eels

The first known eel farms were established by the ancient Romans. These early aquaculture systems raised eels in dedicated ponds.

17. Eels Were Once Mysteries To Scientists

For centuries, the eel’s life cycle puzzled naturalists. Aristotle believed they emerged spontaneously from mud. Their actual reproduction is still not fully understood.

18. Some Navigate Using Earth’s Magnetic Field

Recent research suggests that juvenile eels may sense magnetic fields to aid their migration towards inland habitats and back out to sea before spawning.

19. An Ancient Species Still Exists!

In 2010, scientists discovered a primitive eel species called protanguilla palau in an underwater cave in Palau. It belongs to a family once thought extinct for 300 million years!

So in summary, while often shrouded in mystery, eels represent an ancient and diverse group of fish with many surprising traits and behaviors found across a variety of strange and wonderful species.


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