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Facts about eels for kids

Updated June 13, 2017

Eels are animals that live in the water and look a lot like snakes. However, eels are not snakes, but are actually a type of fish. There are more than 700 different kinds, or species, of eels. Like all animals, eels are grouped in different scientific classifications. One of the classifications that is specifically for eels is the order called Anguilliformes.

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Physical characteristics: what eels look like

Depending on the species, eels can grow to be anywhere between 100 cm (4 inches) to 3.5 m (11.5 feet) long. Even though eels look like snakes, their bodies usually do not have scales like snakes do and are smooth. They have fins on their backs and on the tips of their tails and usually have pointed heads with sharp teeth. Eels that live deep in the sea are usually grey or black. Eels that live in tropical areas have bright patterns and colours.

Habitats: Where Eels Live

Some eels live in places that have freshwater such as ponds, rivers and lakes. When they are ready to reproduce, they travel, or migrate, to the saltwater of oceans and seas. However, many eels live in saltwater at all times. Eels are found throughout the world. They are bottom dwellers, which means that they usually can be found on the muddy or sandy floor of the river or ocean where they live.

Diet: what eels eat

Eels are carnivorous, meaning they are meat eaters. They eat a variety of animals such as worms, snails, frogs, shrimp, mussels, lizards and other small fish. They generally hunt for food at night.

Most common eels

Some of the most common eels are the conger and moray eels. Conger eels are marine animals; they only live in saltwater oceans and seas. There are more than 100 different types of conger eels, and they primarily live around the Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe. Conger eels can be up to 2 m (6 feet) long and can weigh more than 45.4 kg (100 lbs). They prefer to live in deep water and are blackish or greyish in colour.

The moray eel is the most widespread eel in the world and all of the species live in tropical seas. They inhabit shallow waters, and can be found in crevices among rocks or coral reefs. Moray eels have bright colours and skin patterns. They are about 1.5 m (5 feet) long, with the exception of one species that grows to 3.5 m (11.5 feet) long. Humans often eat moray eels.

An eel that really isn't an eel

Some species of fish look like eels and are called eels; however, they are not true eels. One example is the electric eel. Electric eels are not related to eels, but are more closely related to catfish and carp. They live in freshwater ponds, rivers and streams of South America, and feed on small fish, frogs, salamanders and birds. When electric eels attack prey or feel threatened, they emit an electrical charge. This charge is about five times the amount of power that is in a standard wall socket. Electric eels grow up to 2.4 m (8 feet) long and weigh 20 kg (44 lbs).

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About the Author

Andrea Sigust began writing professionally in 1994, authoring user-friendly manuals, reference guides and information sheets while working at a hospital. After years of working in industries ranging from health care to telecommunications, Sigust became a writer. She specializes in the sciences and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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