Imagine that you are on your summer vacation and taking pictures of the coral reef. Some snake like figure pops out and swims right by you, close enough to touch. All these questions run through your mind. What was that? Is it dangerous? You come back from your vacation and decide to do some research on that strange thing. You find out that what you saw was an eel.
Scientists divide eels into nineteen families and more than 600 species. Eighteen of those families live only in the oceans. One eel family lives in freshwater for a part of its life. The other part of its life is spent in the ocean where it is hatched. I bet you can guess what this one is called: the freshwater eel. Fourteen species of freshwater eels are found around the world. Freshwater eels are the most familiar to people because they live in rivers, lakes, and streams where people swim and spend time.
The moray eel has a really powerful bite. Many moray eels have jaws that open wide so they can swallow large chunks of food. They are brightly colored, and the giant moray eel (the largest of all known eels) can get up to ten feet long.
Where Do They Live?
The moray eel lives in shallow coastal waters all over the world. They are found mostly in the coral reefs. During the day, they hide in cracks in the reefs, in caves or between rocks. They swim out in the dark to eat octopuses and many kinds of fish. Most giant moray eels live in shallow salt waters near India, China, and Australia. They are also found in freshwater rivers. A few freshwater moray eels live in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Indonesia.
Electric eels are really not true eels. They are related to catfish and carp but they act like eels and their long body makes it look like eels. So scientists call them eels. Electric eels do not live in North America. They are mostly found in the tropical lakes and rivers of South America.
Electric Eels Electricity
Electric eels produce more electricity than any other living creature. Some large ones have an electrical charge powerful enough to disable a cow, stun a man or horse, light a neon lamp, and drive a small motor.
Electric eels have three pairs of electrical organs on the sides of their bodies. The largest one goes along almost the entire eel, and underneath it is a smaller organ. Electric eels can turn their electric organs on or off whenever they want. The biggest pair of organs make a strong shock that can stun or kill their prey. The smallest electric organ is on the tip of the eelís tail and used for electrolocation (to find objects in the water). This helps eels find prey, but it is weaker than the other organs. When electrolocation is sent out, it goes until it hits something or gets too far away. When the charge that is sent out hits something, the eelís receptor organs detect it. The change in signal tells the eel how large the prey is and whether or not the object is a living creature. If the eel thinks what it found is food, it uses its large electric organs to send out a powerful charge to stun, kill, and damage the preyís eyes. If the eel is not interested in it, it swims around it.
The Conger eels have long, thin, snakelike bodies. They are found in shallow seas around the world and can get over 100 pounds. Some species live in freshwater. They eat almost anything that moves.
One of the most interesting conger eels is the garden eel. This eel burrows into the sand at the bottom of many tropical seas. Garden eels are small and have huge eyes. They also have very small nostrils. They rely on their sight and not their smell to capture their food. They have good eyesight and a bad sense of smell.
Garden eels live in large groups in underwater sandbanks. Each eel has to make its own burrow that goes straight down into the sand. They dig these burrows with their tails. They do this with a gland in their tail which secretes slime. That makes the sand stick together. That is why the burrow does not collapse. The garden eel eats without leaving its burrow. It keeps its tail in the burrow and sticks the rest of its body out. When it gets scared, it takes its whole body into the burrow. It closes the burrow with a mucus plug to protect itself.
There are a lot of eel species out there that we have not found. Scientists go looking for them every day, and they have found many more species than I have talked about. Scientists have found about 600 of them so far.
Halton, Chery. Those Amazing Eels. Minnesota: Dillon Press, 1990.