AskDefine | Define eel

Dictionary Definition



1 the fatty flesh of eel; an elongate fish found in fresh water in Europe and America; large eels are usually smoked or pickled
2 voracious snakelike marine or freshwater fishes with smooth slimy usually scaleless skin and having a continuous vertical fin but no ventral fins

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English ǣl, from Germanic *ēla-. Cognate with Dutch aal, German Aal, Swedish ål.


  • /i:l/
  • ēl, /I:l/
  • Rhymes: -iːl


  1. Any fish of the order Anguilliformes which are elongated and resemble snakes. There are freshwater and marine species.


any fish of the order Anguilliformes which are elongated and resemble snakes

Extensive Definition

True eels (Anguilliformes) are an order of fish, which consists of 4 suborders, 19 families, 110 genera and approximately 600 species. Most eels are predators.
The flat and transparent larva of the eel is called a leptocephalus. A young eel is called an elver.
Most eels prefer to dwell in shallow waters or hide at the bottom layer of the ocean, sometimes in holes. These holes are called eel pits. Only the Anguillidae family comes to fresh water to dwell there (not to breed). Some eels dwell in deep water (in case of family Synaphobranchidae, this comes to a depth of , or are active swimmers (the family Nemichthyidae - to the depth of ).


This classification follows FishBase in dividing the eels into fifteen families. Additional families that are included in other classifications (notably ITIS and Systema Naturae 2000) are noted below the family with which they are synomized in the FishBase system.
Suborder Congroidei
Suborder Synaphobranchoidei
In some classifications the family Cyematidae of bobtail snipe eels is included in the Anguilliformes, but in the FishBase system that family is included in the order Saccopharyngiformes.
The so-called "Electric Eel" of South America is not a true eel, but is more closely related to the Carp.

Use by humans

Freshwater eels (unagi) and marine eels (conger eel, anago) are commonly used in Japanese cuisine - foods such as Unadon and Unajuu are popular but expensive. Eels are also very popular as food in Chinese cuisine, particularly Cantonese and Shanghai cuisine. Eel prices in Hong Kong often reached ¥1000 per kilogram, and even exceeded ¥5000 per kilogram at one time. Eel is also popular in Korean cuisine and is seen as a source of "stamina" for men. The European eel and other freshwater eels are eaten in Europe, the United States, and other places around the world. A traditional East London food is jellied eels. The Basque delicacy angulas consists of deep-fried elver (young eels). New Zealand longfin eel is a traditional food for Maori in New Zealand. In Italian cuisine eels from the Comacchio area (a swampy zone along the Adriatic coast) are specially praised along with the freshwater ones of the Bolsena Lake. In northern Germany and in The Netherlands, smoked eel is praised as a delicacy.
Eels are popular among marine aquarists in the United States, particularly the Moray eel which is commonly kept in tropical saltwater aquariums.
Fishing for eels is best done at night with either a gaff or a strong line with a small and square bloody piece of red meat.
Elvers were once eaten by fishermen as a cheap dish, but environmental changes have led to increased rarity of the fish. They are now considered a delicacy and are priced at up to £700 per kg in the United Kingdom.


The English name eel descends from Old English ǽl, Common Germanic *ǣloz. Also from the common Germanic are Middle Dutch ael, Old High German âl, Old Norse áll. Katz (1998) identifies a number of Indo-European cognates, among them the second part of the Latin name of the eels, anguilla, which is attested in its simplex form illa in a glossary only, and likewise the Greek word for "eel", egkhelys, the second part being attested in Hesychius as elyes. The first compound member, anguis "snake", is cognate to other Indo-European words for "snake", cf. Old Irish escung "eel", Old High German unc "snake", Lithuanian angìs, Greek ophis, okhis, Vedic Sanskrit áhi, Avestan aži, Armenian auj, iž, Old Church Slavonic *ǫžь, all from Proto-Indo-European *oguhis, ēguhis. The word also appears in Old English igil "hedgehog" (named as the "snake eater"), and perhaps in the egi- of Old High German egidehsa "wall lizard". The name of Bellerophon (Βελλερόντης, attested in a variant Ἐλλεροφόντης in Eustathius of Thessalonica) according to this theory is also related, translating to "the slayer of the serpent" (ahihán), the ελλερο- being an adjective for a lost ελλυ- "snake", directly comparable to Hittite ellu-essar- "snake pit". This myth likely came to Greece via Anatolia, and in the Hittite version, the dragon is called Illuyanka, the illuy- part being cognate to the illa word, and the -anka part being cognate to the angu word for "snake". From these forms, no unambiguous Proto-Indo-European form for the eel word can be reconstructed, it could have been *ēl(l)-u-, *ēl(l)-o- or similar.

Other Information

There is an urban legend that wallets made out of electric eels (which, despite their name, are not eels) can demagnetize credit cards. This was proven to be untrue in an episode of the MythBusters TV show. Actually, as pointed out in the Straight Dope, eel-skin wallets are made from hagfish which are unrelated to electric eels. Furthermore, it seems that magnetic clasps, not eel leather, are to blame for demagnetization.
Eel blood is toxic. The toxic protein it contains is destroyed by cooking. The toxin derived from eel blood serum was used by Charles Robert Richet in his Nobel winning research which discovered anaphylaxis (by injecting it into dogs and observing the effect).
On January 31, 1930, the Danish research ship "The Dana" captured what researchers believed to be a six-feet long eel larva near South Africa's Cape of Good Hope. This would have meant there were very long eels in the sea, since the typical eel larva is three inches long, while the adults can grow from about 4 feet to 16 feet long. In 1970, Dr. David G. Smith of the University of Miami identified the larva found as that of the spiny eel, an eel-like fish whose larval length is equal to its adult length, while the larval length of the true eel is much shorter than its adult length.
One of the famous attractions of the Pacific island of Huahine (part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia), is the bridge that crosses over a stream with 3- to 6-foot long eels. These eels are deemed sacred by the locals, by local mythology. Aside from just viewing these slithering creatures, any tourist can buy a can of mackerel and feed the eels.


eel in Min Nan: Môa
eel in Bulgarian: Змиоркообразни
eel in Czech: Holobřiší
eel in Danish: Ålefisk
eel in German: Aalartige
eel in Estonian: Angerjalised
eel in Spanish: Anguilliformes
eel in Persian: مارماهی
eel in French: Anguilliformes
eel in Ido: Anguilo
eel in Indonesian: Sidat
eel in Italian: Anguilla (genere)
eel in Georgian: გველთევზასნაირნი
eel in Latin: Anguilliformes
eel in Lithuanian: Unguriažuvės
eel in Hungarian: Angolnaalakúak
eel in Malay (macrolanguage): Belut
eel in Dutch: Palingachtigen
eel in Japanese: ウナギ目
eel in Norwegian: Ålefisker
eel in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ålefisk
eel in Polish: Węgorzokształtne
eel in Portuguese: Anguilliformes
eel in Russian: Угорь
eel in Slovak: Úhorotvaré
eel in Swedish: Ålartade fiskar
eel in Thai: ปลาไหล
eel in Vietnamese: Cá chình
eel in Cherokee: ᏢᏕᎦ
eel in Turkish: Anguilliformes
eel in Ukrainian: Вугроподібні
eel in Walloon: Anweye
eel in Chinese: 鰻
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