Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Anguilla anguilla
(European eel)



Anguilla anguilla (European eel)


  • Last modified
  • 10 December 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Threatened Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Anguilla anguilla
  • Preferred Common Name
  • European eel
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Anguilla anguilla (Linnaeus, 1758)

Preferred Common Name

  • European eel

Other Scientific Names

  • Angill angill (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Anguilla acutirostris Risso, 1827
  • Anguilla aegyptiaca Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla aegyptica Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla altirostris Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla ancidda Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla anguilla macrocephala De la Pylaie, 1835
  • Anguilla anguilla ornithorhyncha De la Pylaie, 1835
  • Anguilla anguilla oxycephala De la Pylaie, 1835
  • Anguilla anguillia (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Anguilla bibroni Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla brevirostris Cisternas, 1877
  • Anguilla callensis Guichenot, 1850
  • Anguilla canariensis Valenciennes, 1843
  • Anguilla capitone Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla cloacina Bonaparte, 1846
  • Anguilla cuvieri Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla eurystoma Heckel & Kner, 1858
  • Anguilla fluviatilis Anslijin, 1828
  • Anguilla hibernica Couch, 1865
  • Anguilla kieneri Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla latirostris Risso, 1827
  • Anguilla linnei Malm, 1877
  • Anguilla marginata Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla marina Nardo, 1860
  • Anguilla mediorostris Risso, 1827
  • Anguilla melanochir Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla microptera Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla migratoria Krøyer, 1846
  • Anguilla morena Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla nilotica Heckel, 1846
  • Anguilla oblongirostris Blanchard, 1866
  • Anguilla platycephala Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla platyrhynchus Costa, 1850
  • Anguilla savignyi Kaup, 1856
  • Anguilla septembrina Bonaparte, 1846
  • Anguilla vulgaris Shaw, 1803
  • Anguilla vulgaris fluviatilis Rafinesque, 1810
  • Anguilla vulgaris lacustus Rafinesque, 1810
  • Anguilla vulgaris marina Rafinesque, 1810
  • Anguilla vulgaris ornithorhincha De la Pylaie, 1835
  • Anguilla vulgaris platyura De la Pylaie, 1835
  • Leptocephalus brevirostris Kaup, 1856
  • Muraena anguilla Linnaeus, 1758
  • Muraena anguilla maculata Chiereghini, 1872
  • Muraena oxyrhina Ekström, 1831
  • Muraena platyrhina Ekström, 1831

International Common Names

  • English: common eel; eel; eel, European; river eel; silver eel; sing eel; weed eel; yellow eel
  • Spanish: anguila; anguila europea; anguilla; anguilla catarrojina; anguilla fartona; anguilla maresa; anguilla martina; anguilla pastorenca; anguilla pugaron
  • French: angèle; anguiello; anguielo; anguille; anguille argentée; anguille d'Europe; anguille européenne; anguille jaune; bomarinque; bouiron; civelle; coureuse; de la riviere; leptocéphale; margignou; pibale; piballe; pimperneau; pougau; pounchurote; pounchuroto; resso; sili; silien; thaoundella; thaudelo; verniau
  • Russian: evropeiskiy ugor'; rechnoi ugor'; retschnoi ugor
  • Arabic: h'anklyss

Local Common Names

  • Albania: ngjala; njala
  • Austria: aal
  • Belgium: aal; paling
  • Brazil: enguia
  • Bulgaria: zmiorca; zmiorka
  • Czech Republic: úhor rícní
  • Denmark: ål
  • Finland: ankerias
  • Germany: aal; Aalpricken; Ahlen; Blankaal; Europäischer Aal; flußaal; Flussaal; Gelbaal; Gemeiner aal; Gemeiner flußaal
  • Greece: cheli
  • Hungary: angolna
  • Iceland: áll
  • Iran: mar Mahi Ma'muli; marmahi-e-haghighi
  • Ireland: an eascann; eascann
  • Isle of Man (UK): astan
  • Israel: tzlofach
  • Italy: ambidda; ambidduna; anchidda; ancidda; ancidda di sciumi; anciddi; ancinna; ancioda; angarone; anghí d'acqua; anghí d'acqua de maa; anghí d'acqua douse; anghí d'acqua saa; anghidda; anghilla; anghilla de màa; anghira; angidda; anguela; anguella; anguidda; anguidda grossa; anguidduna; anguila avocati; anguilla; anguilla mareteca; anzile; bisat; bisàto; bisato femenal; bisato marin; bisato papalone; bisciatto; buratèl; buratèli; buratelo; cacchiastrella; canaiola; capetune; capillari; capitone; capitune; capituni; capomazzo; cedioli; chiara; cieche; ciríola; cirioli; crescenzia; cuzzutella; dritta; filotrotta; fiumarola; intínca; macchione; magliola; magnaranocchie; majatica; majetica; marcagghiuni; orba; pantanina; pollastrella; schiacco; sementara; storta campagnola; tempestina; testoni; zingorra; zuncurrunu
  • Japan: unagi
  • Malta: sallura
  • Netherlands: aal; paling
  • Norway: ål
  • Poland: wegorz; wegorz europejski
  • Portugal: eiró; enguia; enguia-europeia
  • Portugal/Azores: eiró; enguia; iró
  • Portugal/Madeira: eiró; iró
  • Romania: anghila; anguilla europeana; hel; ogor
  • Slovakia: úhor obycajný
  • Slovenia: jegula; jegulja
  • Spain: anguila; anguilla
  • Sweden: ål; europeisk ål
  • Switzerland: aal; anguilla
  • Turkey: yilan baligi; yilan balyghi
  • UK/England and Wales: llsywen
  • Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro): jagula; jegulja


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Alongside most other species of aquatic animals produced for human consumption, the aquaculture production of the freshwater eels has shown a staggering growth since the 1980s-1990s. The production of river eels is predominantly concentrated in the Far East and a few countries in Europe and is estimated about 230,992 MT (FAO, 2001). Eel consumption is limited to Japan and a small number of European countries including Italy, Germany and the Netherlands where they are considered a delicacy. There are two main markets for eels in Europe: one for eels of about 150 g and one for those above 300 g. Since 1999 the value of unprocessed fish has ranged over Euro 7-9 depending on size and quality of the product.

The family Anguillidae contains a single genus Anguilla with about 16 species (Ege, 1939). Of the 16 species of freshwater eels four species are commonly cultured, these are: the European eel (A. anguilla Linnaeus), the Japanese eel (A. japonica Temminck & Schlegel), the American eel (A. rostrata Lesueur) and the Australian eel (A. australis australis Richardson). A. anguilla is closest related to A. rostrata (Ege, 1939; Aoyama and Tsukamoto, 1997; Bastrop et al., 2000).

Culture of the European eel began in France and Italy in the second part of the nineteenth century (Gousset, 1990; Heinsbroek, 1991; Ciccotti and Fontennelle, 2000). However, large-scale production started only in the 1960s when formulated diets became available. In Europe, Italy has been the largest producer of eels but since the development of aquaculture recirculating systems in the mid-1980s and 1990s the bulk of eels are produced indoors in Denmark and the Netherlands.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Anguilliformes
  •                         Family: Anguillidae
  •                             Genus: Anguilla
  •                                 Species: Anguilla anguilla


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Freshwater eels are easily recognised by their slender snake-like body, absence of pelvic fins, and presence of small fan-shaped pectoral fins. The dorsal and anal fins are very long and confluent with a greatly reduced caudal fin. The mouth is terminal with the lower jaw slightly longer than the upper. The gill openings are narrow and the lateral line is well developed.

Anguilla anguilla can be distinguished from other eels by the total number of vertebrae, their uniform coloration in combination with their long dorsal fin (long finned) which originates well in advance of the anus, and the shape of the maxillary and vomerine tooth band on the upper jaw (Ege, 1939; Tesch, 1977).

Adult females can reach 133 cm in length with a total body weight of about 6 kg (Dekker et al., 1998) whereas males only reach 50 cm in length with a maximum weight of 0.3 kg.


The skin colour of A. anguilla varies with the sex and age of the eel, the environment, and the physiological stage. Young eels are generally a lighter, yellowish-grey colour and are called ‘yellow’ or ‘red’ eels. Mature eels have a silver olive-green or dark brown colour on the back with a distinct transition to the silver-white belly and are referred to as ‘silver’ eels.


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The natural distribution area of Anguilla anguilla in its freshwater habitat is located in the inland waters of the coastal areas of Europe and northern Africa, ranging from Murmansk near the North Cape of the Scandinavian Peninsula through the coastal areas of the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic coastal areas of Morocco. In the south it can be found in the coastal areas of the landmasses bordering the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In addition to the continental shelves of Europe and Africa the species can also be found in the British Isles, Iceland, the islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Azores and Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The marine life stages have been observed in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the Sargasso Sea and Iceland. A. anguilla is also present in Central Europe and in Russian waters, it is however not clear whether these stocks form natural populations or result from the extensive introductions that have been carried out in the past. Reference is made to the publications of Tesch (1977, 1999) for more details.

A. anguilla can be cultured in an extensive way in lakes and lagoons or more intensively in open pond systems or basins. As the species requires temperatures above 20oC for optimal growth these farms need to be located in areas with warm or hot summers and moderate winters such as can be found in the Mediterranean region. On the other hand, the species is also very suitable to be cultured in recirculating aquaculture systems which can be operated independently in any geographical or climatological condition.

Natural stocks of yellow and silver eels have depleted steadily since 1965 and reduced fisheries production from 50,000 MT down to 20,000 MT. This reduction coincides with a dramatic decrease of migrating glass eel and elvers which started in 1980. At the moment (2004) the quantity of recruits migrating upstream is less than 5-10% of levels observed between 1960 and 1970 and has put the species in danger. An unambiguous reason for this negative development cannot be given and the depletion of the stocks is probably a result of a multitude of factors which include:

  • over-fishing
  • pollution
  • loss of the natural habitat
  • isolation of the habitat by dams and barrages
  • climatic changes of the ocean
  • introduction of diseases by man.

Pressure on natural stocks has increased in such a way that there is only little or no margin to increase capture and aquaculture production significantly without threatening the existence of the species.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 10 Feb 2022
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Western SaharaPresentNative


IsraelPresentIntroducedFirst reported: 1950 - 1959


Bosnia and HerzegovinaPresentNative
Faroe IslandsPresentNative
Federal Republic of YugoslaviaPresentNative
Isle of ManPresentNative
North MacedoniaPresentNative
-Northern RussiaPresentNative
-Southern RussiaPresentNative
Serbia and MontenegroPresentNative
SlovakiaPresentNativeContinued presence is conservation-dependent
-Balearic IslandsPresentNative
-Canary IslandsPresentNative
United KingdomPresentNative
-Channel IslandsPresentNative
-Northern IrelandPresentNative

North America

United StatesPresentIntroduced1969

Sea Areas

Atlantic - Eastern CentralPresentNative
Atlantic - NortheastPresentNative
Atlantic - NorthwestPresentNative
Mediterranean and Black SeaPresentNative

South America


Invasive Species Threats

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Invasive SpeciesWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Anguillicoloides crassusParasitism (incl. parasitoid); PathogenicPalstra et al. (2007); Sjöberg et al. (2009)
Silurus glanis (wels catfish)Competition - monopolizing resources; PredationMartino et al. (2011)


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Aoyama J; Tsukamoto K, 1997. Evolution of the Freshwater Eels. Naturwissenschaften, 84:17-21.

Arkhipchuk VV, 1999. Chromosome database. Database of Dr. Victor Arkhipchuk. Ukraine.

Bastrop R; Strehlow B; Jürss K; Sturmbauer C, 2000. A new molecular phylogenetic hypothesis for the evolution of freshwater eels. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 14(2):250-258.

Bauchot M-L, 1986. Anguillidae. In: Whitehead PJP, Bauchot M-L, Hureau J-C, Nielsen J, Tortonese E, eds. Fishes of the northeastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Volume 2. Paris: UNESCO, 535-536.

Bertin L, 1956. Eels a biological study. London: Cleaver-Hume Press, 192 pp.

Blanc M; Gaudet JL; Banarescu P; Hureau JC, 1971. European inland water fish: a multilingual catalogue. London: Fishing News (Books) Ltd.

Ciccotti E; Fontennelle G, 2000. Aquaculture of European eel (Anguilla anguilla) in Europe: a review. Abstracts of the third East Asian Symposium on Eel Research - Sustainability of Resources and Aquaculture of Eels. Keelung: Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute, 9-11.

Coad BW, 1995. Freshwater fishes of Iran. Acta Sci. Nat. Acad. Sci. Brno. 29(1):1-64.

Degani G, 1986. Dietary effects of lipid source, lipid level and temperature on growth of glass eel (Anguilla anguilla). Aquaculture, 56(3/4):207-214; 23 ref.

Dekker W, 2003. De toekomst van de Europese aalstand en -visserij. Aquacultuur, 18(2):8-18.

Dekker W; van Os B; van Willigen J, 1998. Minimal and maximal size of eel. L’anguille Europeene. 10E Reunion du Groupe de Travail "Anguille" EIFAC/ICES. Bulletin Francais de Peche et Pecherie, Conseil superieur de la peche, Paris (France), 1998.

Ege W, 1939. A reversion of the genus Anguilla Shaw, a systematic, phylogenetic and geographic study. Dana Rep., 16:1-256.

FAO, 2001. FAO Fisheries Department, Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit. Aquaculture production: quantities 1950-2001. FISHSTAT Plus: Universal software for fisheries statistical time series. Version 2.3.2000.

Froese R; Pauly D, 2004. FishBase DVD. Penang, Malaysia: Worldfish Center. Online at

García-Gallego M; Akharbach H; Higuera Mde la, 1998. Use of protein sources alternative to fish meal in diets with amino acids supplementation for the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). Animal Science, 66(1):285-292; 48 ref.

Gousset B, 1990. European eel (Anguilla anguilla L.) farming technologies in Europe and Japan : application of a comparative analysis. Aquaculture, 87(No. 3/4):209-235.

Heinsbroek LTN, 1991. A review of eel culture in Japan and Europe. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 22:57-72.

Higuera M de la; CardeneteG, 1987. Fuentes alternativas de proteina y energya en acuicultura. In: Espinosa de los Monteros J, Labarta U, eds. Alimentación en Acuicultura. Madrid: CAICYT, 59-129.

Keith P; Allardi J; Moutou B, 1992. Livre rouge des espèces menacées de poissons d’eau douce de France et bilan des introductions. Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Secretariat de la Faune et de la Flore, Conseil Supérieur de la Peche, CEMAGREF and Ministère de l’Environment, 111 pp.

Klinkhardt M; Tesche M; Greven H, 1995. Database of fish chromosomes. Westarp Wissenschaften, 179 pp.

Lecomte-Finiger R, 1994. The early life of the European eel. Nature, 370:51-54.

Lee KJ; Bai SC, 1997. Haemoglobin powder as a dietary fish meal replacer in juvenile Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica (Temminck et Schlegel). Aquaculture Research, 28(7):509-516; 29 ref.

Martino A; Syväranta J; Crivelli A; Cereghino R; Santoul F, 2011. Is European catfish a threat to eels in southern France? Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 21(3):276-281.

McCleave JD; Brickley PJ; O’Brien KM; Kistner DA; Wong MW; Gallagher M; Watson SM, 1998. Do leptocephali of the European eel swim to reach continental waters? Status of the question. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK, 78(1):285-306.

McCosker JE, 1989. Freshwater eels (Family Anguillidae) in California: current conditions and future scenarios. Calif. Fish and Game, 75(1):4-11.

Palstra AP; Heppener DFM; Ginneken VJT van; Szekely C; Thillart GEEJM van den, 2007. Swimming performance of silver eels is severely impaired by the swimbladder parasite Anguillicola crassus. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 352(1):244-256.

Schmidt J, 1932. Danish eel investigations during 25 years, 1905-1930. Copenhagen: Carlsberg Foundation.

Sjöberg NB; Petersson E; Wickström H; Hansson S, 2009. Effects of the swimbladder parasite Anguillicola crassus on the migration of European silver eels Anguilla anguilla in the Baltic Sea. Journal of Fish Biology, 74(9):2158-2170.

Tesch FW, 1977. The eel: biology and management of anguillid eels. The eel: biology and management of anguillid eels., 434 pp.

Tesch F-W, 1999. Der Aal. Biologie und Fisherei. Hamburg: Verlag Paul Parey.

Usui A, 1979. Eel culture. Eel culture., 188 pp.; [115 fig., 19 tab.].

Van Ginneken V; Vianen V; Onderwater M; Onderwater J; Van Schie S; Berkhoudt H; Muusze B; Van Heeswijk R; Lamuar-Olivar O; Niemantsverdriet P; Noorlander C; Nieveen R; Sneldenwaard P; van der Thillard G, 2000. Afpaaiende palingen in aquarium bij Biologie Leiden. Aquacultuur, 15(4):9-10.

Van Ginneken VJT, 1999. EU komt met bepalingen om paling te beschermen. Aquacultuur, 14(2):7-10.

Van Ginneken VJT, 2003. Vroegtijdige ‘zilvering’ van paling op de kwekerij. Aquacultuur, 18(1): 13-16.

Welcomme RL, 1988. International introductions of inland aquatic species. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper, No. 294:x + 318 pp.

Distribution References

Anon, 1988. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. [ed. by Welcomme R L]. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. x + 318 pp.

Bauchot M-L, 1986. Anguillidae. In: Fishes of the northeastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, 2 [ed. by Whitehead PJP, Bauchot M-L, Hureau J-C, Nielsen J, Tortonese E]. Paris, UNESCO. 535-536.

Blanc M, Gaudet J-L, Banarescu P, Hureau J-C, 1971. European inland water fish. A multilingual catalogue. London, UK: Fishing News (Books) Ltd.

CABI, Undated. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

Coad B W, 1995. Freshwater fishes of Iran. Acta Sci. Nat. Acad. Sci. Brno. 29 (1), 1-64.

FAO, 2001. FAO Fisheries Department, Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit. Aquaculture production: quantities 1950-2001. In: FISHSTAT Plus: Universal software for fisheries statistical time series. Version 2.3.2000,

Froese R, Pauly D, 2004. FishBase.

McCosker JE, 1989. Freshwater eels (Family Anguillidae) in California: current conditions and future scenarios. In: Calif. Fish and Game, 75 (1) 4-11.

Seebens H, Blackburn T M, Dyer E E, Genovesi P, Hulme P E, Jeschke J M, Pagad S, Pyšek P, Winter M, Arianoutsou M, Bacher S, Blasius B, Brundu G, Capinha C, Celesti-Grapow L, Dawson W, Dullinger S, Fuentes N, Jäger H, Kartesz J, Kenis M, Kreft H, Kühn I, Lenzner B, Liebhold A, Mosena A (et al), 2017. No saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide. Nature Communications. 8 (2), 14435.

Tesch F W, 1977. The eel: biology and management of anguillid eels. In: The eel: biology and management of anguillid eels. London, UK: Chapman & Hall. 434 pp.


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Main Author
Heinz van Herwaarden
Venneweg 29, 5051 BN Goirle, Netherlands

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