Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Animal Information Series
American Eel (Anguilla rostrata)
Do they have any other names?
The names “glass eel” or “elver” are used to describe young, developing eels.
Why are they called American eels?
The closest relatives to the American eel are other freshwater eels found in Europe
and Asia; therefore they are called American eels because they are only in America.
Anguilla is the Latin name for eel and rostrata is Latin for “beaked,” in reference to the
What do they look like?
American eels are a brownish-colored fish with a slender, snake-like body and a small,
pointed head. The body appears smooth and mucousy; however there are small scales
present. They have a long dorsal fin that is more than half the length of the body and
attached to the tail and anal fins. American eels do not have pelvic fins, but do have
pectoral fins (on the sides near the head). The lower jaw projects farther than the
upper jaw and they have many small teeth.
Photo Credit: Duane Raver/USFWS
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Where do they live in Indiana?
American eels are rare in Indiana and are found in large streams and rivers. They can
sometimes be found in ponds or lakes that are not connected to a river, although this
What kind of habitat do they need?
American eels are found in large streams or rivers with continuous flow and clear
water. During the day eels like to stay near logs, boulders, or other cover.
How do they reproduce?
Freshwater eels reproduce south of Bermuda in the western North Atlantic Ocean.
The exact location is not known and it is believed that the adults die after spawning.
The American eels travel back to the southern and eastern coasts of the United States
and the other freshwater eels travel all the way back to Europe. The eels reach the
river mouths and enter the river systems. The males do not travel far inland and stay
near the river mouths but the females continue traveling north up the rivers until they
are stopped by the stream source or by an object like a dam. Females have even been
seen crawling through wet grass or rocks to go around an obstruction or to enter a
nearby pond or lake that has no outlet to the ocean. After anywhere from 6 to 20
years later the eels travel back to the ocean to reproduce.
How old are they when they reproduce?
American eels can be anywhere from 6 to 20 years old when they reproduce.
How long do they live?
American eels can live up to at least 20 years old.
How fast do they grow in Indiana?
Males only grow to about 18 inches in length whereas the females can grow as long as
62 inches in length. However, there are no males in Indiana because they stay in the
river mouths near the ocean.
What do they eat?
Young eels eat mostly aquatic insects and the larger, adult eels eat crayfish and fish.
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What eats them?
The American eel is eaten by larger fish, other eels, and fish-eating birds.
Are they safe to eat?
American eels are safe to eat and freshwater eels are an important food fish in
Europe. It is popular to eat fried, smoked, or pickled. However in Indiana eels are rare
and are not listed as a game fish for harvesting.
How do I fish for them?
Most American eels are taken by anglers while fishing for other species. American eels
put up a strong fight when taken on hook and line. However, they are not a game fish
and are not encouraged to be harvested.
How is Indiana managing American eels?
American eels are native to Indiana and are not stocked by the state. The state does
monitor the American eel populations, however.