Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.

 

Inside the Treasure Box: Week Seven

It’s slimy. It’s creepy. It’s just in time for Halloween. This week we’re diving down into a world unseen, to the murky and mysterious dwelling of Oklahoma’s more aquatic residents. We’re not talking catfish and bass, here. Oh no. We’ve got something far more exotic in mind, something coiled in chills and thrills. Brace yourself for the American eel.

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An American eel specimen from our ichthyology department

Although the American eel, Anguilla rostrata, is a widespread and common fish species of the Atlantic and Gulf drainages of North, Central and northern South America, it is currently rare in Oklahoma. Eels are catadromous fishes, meaning they spend part of their life cycle in the ocean and the other part in freshwater. American eels spawn in the ocean. The larval eels drift in currents to the mouths of large freshwater rivers where they migrate upstream to feed in freshwaters before returning to the ocean as adults to carry on the circle of life.

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Juvenile eels

Due to their poor eyesight, eels most likely depend on their sense of smell to find prey. American eels are nocturnal and therefore do the bulk of hunting at night. Unlike other fish, the American eel’s scales do not overlap in an organized pattern, but rather occur irregularly across the body. Despite these minute scales, the American eel appears to be “naked” because of a mucous layer that coats the body.

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A mucous coating creates a slimy look

Although American eels are currently rare in the state, as mentioned above, they were once fairly common in the large rivers of Oklahoma, particularly in the eastern part of the state. However, the construction of impoundments has hindered their migration. As a result, their population has been declining in Oklahoma since this specimen was collected from the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma in 1973, and prior to this photograph, had not been opened since that date.

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The Kiamichi River, photo courtesy of www.oklahomaroadtrips.com

They were once fairly common in the large rivers of Oklahoma, particularly in the eastern part of the state, but the construction of impoundments has hindered their migration. As a result, their population has been declining in Oklahoma since this specimen was collected from the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma in 1973, and prior to this photograph, had not been opened since that date.

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Dr. Marsh-Matthews, ichthyology curator, uncoils the eel for a close-up

The American eel certainly isn’t our most adorable specimen, but there’s just something compelling about that creepy-but-cool stare. Next week we’ll be trading the slime and scales for feathers and flight, so don’t miss out. Now that you’ve had a chance to see the American eel in all its glory, we have a question for you: chilling or thrilling? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!