Anguilla rostrata

Common Name

American Eel

Year Described

Lesueur, 1817


Pectoral Fin: 14-20
Lateral Line: 31-33
Vertebrae: 103-112
Branchiostegal Rays: 9-13

A robust eel that is rounded in cross-section anteriorly. The jaws are large, with fleshy lips and a protruding lower jaw. Teeth small and granular. Anterior nostril tubular. Eye small. Gill opening on lower side; immediately in front of pectoral base. Dorsal fin origin before anal fin origin but well behind pectoral tip. Dorsal and anal fins continuous around tail tip. Pectoral fin well developed and fan-like. Body scaled, but scales are embedded in the skin in basketweave pattern. Lateral line present.


Olive green, gray, or black dorsally, grading to a pale belly. Junveniles (elvers) are yellowish to greenish.


Maximum size to 150cm TL. Mature adults commonly to 50cm TL.


Adults are mostly freshwater or estuarine, and only enter the open sea to spawn in the Sargasso Sea region south of Bermuda. Leptocephali transition to juvenile eels when they reach the continental shelf waters, and the eels ascend rivers back into freshwater to mature.


Greenland to the Lesser Antilles, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Also Bermuda. Breeds in the deep waters of the Sargasso Sea.


McEachran, J.D. & J.D. Fechhelm. 1998. Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Volume 1: Myxiniformes to Gasterosteiformes. University of Texas Press, Austin. i-viii + 1-1112.

Richards, W.J. (Ed.). 2005. Early Stages of Atlantic Fishes: An Identification Guide for the Western Central North Atlantic. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Smith, D.G. 2002. Anguillidae. In: FAO Species Identification Guide to Fishes of the Western Atlantic. (ed. Carpenter K), pp. 692-693. UN FAO Publishers, Rome.

Other Notes

The European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) also breeds in the Sargasso Sea but adults are not found in western Atlantic waters. Leptocephali are differentiated by myomere counts (103-111 for A. rostrata and 111-119 for A. anguilla).