Fearsome Hunters of the Sea
By Sharon Powell, 2010
Eels have existed for millions of years, and in fact, scientific researchers claim they have been around for more than ninety three million years. Of all the fish in the sea, “Eels” are probably one of the most diverse species known to man. Besides being able to change colors, shape and body parts, eels are also found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams. Their long slender bodies are capable of hiding between rocks and crevices, or you may spot them lurking in and out of sunken ships and debris in larger bodies of water.
A Feast of Species
There are many different species of eels; and in fact, researchers suggest there are between five hundred and seven hundred fifty different species, but only sixteen eel species are found in lakes, rivers and streams. Including the two-hundred different kinds of Moray Eels pictured above, most eels look similar to the slithering reptile commonly referred to as a snake. The eels skin is slimy for ease of escape in difficult situations. The slick features also act as a deterrent for diseases attaching themselves to the eels outer layer of skin.
The photograph on the right is an Electric Eel and most commonly found in murky waters of the Amazon and South American Rivers. The electric eel packs a powerful punch of 650 volts, and is several times more powerful than a household electric outlet. The “electric eel” is also a cousin to the catfish and carp found in most freshwater lakes and rivers. The eel’s body is mostly muscle attached to a long backbone, housing 750 vertebrae compared to the thirty-three humans possess. The extra vertebrae allow the eel to be very agile when traveling on land and water.
Most all eels; excepting some “moray” have excellent eyesight and choose to hunt for food at dawn, tracking their next meal by means of scent. Once the hungry carnivore captures his prey, their razor sharp teeth and strong jaws prove dangerous and are usually fatal to other fish and crabs caught within their path. Most ocean eels enjoy a favorite dish of crab or octopuses to satisfy their appetite and will often be seen spinning furiously around several times before consuming their victim. The feeding frenzy is most commonly referred to as the “death roll.” Freshwater eels will also consume small insects, snails, worms, frogs, tadpoles, and small fish or eggs.
Like most all things born into this world, baby eels are small by nature. The newly hatched larvae are transparent when born, and float atop the ocean waves with other plank tonic creatures. The larvae later takes the shape of a leaf with a small head attached at one end and will continue to grow several feet within a short period, usually within a few months. Some species of eel can grow to twelve feet or longer, while freshwater eels can be several feet long and weigh between ten to twenty-eight pounds.
The male species are most generally smaller than the female, but both sexes have a small cavity housing their stomach and other vital organs. Besides the eels powerful jaws and teeth, their keen sense of smell and hunting skills allow the fish to survive in dangerous waters. The deadly predator breaths through their gills and skin for oxygen intake, which is complimented by a dorsal and side fin used for maneuvering in tight places.
Another significant feature many eel species possess is their ability to migrate from freshwater to ocean life with great ease. Migration allows the eel to travel from one place to another in search of food or mate. The eel will travel thousands of miles to return to the ocean for breeding purposes before their death.