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Fascinating and Strange Facts About Eels – Snakelike Fish

Eels are some of the most extraordinary animals under the ocean’s surface because of how deceptive they are. Most of us might think they look like snakes, but they are actually ray-finned fish! 

These water creatures vary in size, weight, and appearance. If you ever find yourself swimming in the ocean and come face to face with an eel, it’s natural that you might be worried about what to do. 

In this article, we’re going to walk you through a ton of facts about eels, starting with the basics; these include what eels look like, where they live, and what they eat. Then, we’ll take a closer look at some lesser-known facts about eels, including what to do when you might be threatened by one, so make sure you stay tuned until the end. 

Let’s dive right in. 

Facts About Eels

Basic Eels Facts


Eels belong to the order known as Anguilliformes, which have several suborders and families. There are more than 800 species of eels worldwide that live in both salt and fresh water, along with eight suborders and 19 families. 

Scientific Classification 

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata 
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Anguilliformes
  • Family: Anguillidae 
  • Subfamily: The list below contains a few commonly known eel
  • Subfamily Names: 
    • Family Nettastomatidae (Duckbill eels
    • Family Heterenchelyidae (Mud eels)
    • Family Ophichthidae (Snake eels)
    • Family Myrocongridae (Thin eels
    • Family Muraenidae (Moray eels)

Latin Name

An eel’s Latin name is Anguilliformes, which when translated means “elongate fishes with pelvic fins and girdle absent or reduced.” 


moray eel

Unlike sea snakes, eels are elongated fish with flat heads. They do not have pelvic fins, but their anal and dorsal fins are fused with the caudal fin. This means that an eel’s fin is like a ribbon that runs the length of its body, and continues till the tip of its tail. 

Eels also have tiny scales all over their bodies, but their scales are relatively small and not easily visible to the naked eye, making them look like they have smooth skin. 

Common Types of Eels

Some of the most common types of eels are: 

Common Types of Eels
  • Black-spotted eel 
  • Giant moray eel 
  • Beach conger eel 
  • Fimbriated eel 
  • Longfin African conger eel 
  • Mottled conger eel 

Size and Weight 

Eels vary in size and length. One of the smallest eels in the world is around five centimeters long. Some of the largest eels in the world are approximately one to four meters long. For instance, the slender giant moray is around 13 feet long. 

In terms of weight, eels can weigh anywhere from 25 grams to over 20 kilograms, depending on the species. 

Habitat and Range

Eels - Habitat and Range

Eels can be found in both fresh and saltwater. They generally prefer to live in shallow water and stay close to the ground. Eels are often found near mud, sand, burrows, and under rocks. While many types of eels spend their whole lives in the ocean, some species of eels are forced to travel to different locations and climb waterfalls and dam walls to live in freshwater. 


Eels are carnivores, meaning they eat other creatures. These creatures include crustaceans, lobsters, shrimp, along with mollusks like mussels, clams, and mollusks. They also eat sea urchins, frogs, crayfish, and octopuses. 

Life Expectancy

An eel’s average lifespan is anywhere between ten and 20 years. 

10 Interesting Facts About Eels 

Here’s a list of ten exciting facts about eels! 

The body of an eel is covered with a layer of slimy mucus

Eels are covered with slimy mucus. In addition to protecting the eel from danger, the mucus helps the eel with osmoregulation, which is simply the process of water being pumped in and out of the eel’s gills. The amount of water the eel takes in depends on the thickness of the mucus on its body. The mucus layer protects the eel from parasites and allows it to propel through the water quickly, making it a more streamlined fish. 

Many eel species are nocturnal

Many different types of eels rest during the day and come out at night to hunt for food and eat, which is why they aren’t seen very often. For example, the American eel is nocturnal and comes out to hunt at night. During the day, it tends to hide under sand, gravel, or mud, typically in bodies of water no deeper than six feet. 

Eels have poor eyesight

Even though these fish are some of the more dangerous creatures under the ocean, they don’t often rely on their eyesight when attacking prey or hunting. Instead, they use their other stronger senses, like smell and hearing, to help them find food and eat. 

Eels can lay thousands of eggs at once 

While some fish lay around 100 eggs in a single clutch, eels lay approximately 400,000 to 500,000 eggs in a single clutch! American eels lay more than four million eggs in a single clutch, but unfortunately, the female dies shortly after laying her eggs. 

Eel meat is a huge delicacy in Japan

While eels might not be your preferred meat of choice when eating sushi, freshwater eel is hugely popular in Japan. The eel meat is roasted and served with a sauce, rice, and fresh pepper. This roasted eel dish is particularly popular during the summertime. 

American eels go through many different stages before adulthood

When the American eel is first born, the larvae are shaped like a leaf. As it gets older, it grows to be a glass eel that is roughly three inches long. It then becomes a young eel known as an elver, and then it becomes a yellow eel right before reaching sexual maturity. Around three years later, it finally turns silver and can live up to 40 years of age. 

Electric eels don’t belong to the eel family 

Electric eels don’t belong to the eel family 

Even though eels and electric eels share a name, electric eels actually belong to a different family of fish known as knifefish. Electric eels have eel-shaped bodies, but they are only found in various freshwater regions, such as near South America. Electric eels also breathe air, which means they surface every 15 minutes to breathe in oxygen. 

Eels can swim backward

When eels swim, they generate waves. Therefore, when an eel wants to swim backward, all it has to do is simply change the direction of the wave generated by its body, and it moves back. 

Eels have incredibly flexible spines

Eels have flexible spines because they have more than 100 vertebrae in the spine that allows them to maneuver their bodies through small spaces easily. 

An eel bite needs to be treated with an antiseptic 

eel bite needs to be treated with an antiseptic 

If you ever get bitten by an eel and are far away from a doctor,  make sure you wash the wound out with water, then apply an antiseptic ointment to the injury. Cover it with a bandage, and consult a doctor to be safe. 


In this article, we took you through a series of varied facts about eels, from what they eat to how their bodies move. We tried to include some facts that you might not have heard about otherwise as well. The family of eels as a whole is quite diverse and full of subspecies, and we hope our list of facts inspired you to continue reading about them!