As the weather begins to warm, young American eels will begin their long migration to streams and brooks, such as the Blind Brook right here at Rye Nature Center. American eels begin their lives at their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea, located in the Atlantic Ocean. This larvae stage of the American eel (Angullia rostrate) looks nothing like the full grown image we have come to know. They are flat, small, and look almost like leeches. These small larvae will float along the Gulf Stream current until they are brought north, which is where their transformation begins.
As they arrive in coastal areas of the Northeast, their bodies begin to elongate and they become what we call glass eels. These glass eels will begin to migrate up tidal rivers and streams, such as the Hudson River and make the transition from salt water to freshwater. The eels will continue to grow and mature as they continue their way upstream. They will live in these tidal streams until they are fully matured, which can sometimes take over 20 years!
Once the eels are fully mature they will make the long journey back down their tidal brooks and streams and back into the Atlantic Ocean. They are now on their trip back to the Sargasso Sea, where they will mate and then die, leaving the next larvae generation to complete the same journey.
During the early spring at Rye Nature Center, you may notice a large net in the Blind Brook. This net is called a Fyke Net and it is used to catch glass eels. We will be taking part in a student research project and partnering with the DEC to count how many glass eels we catch during the migration. After we count, weigh, and collect environmental data, the glass eels will be released upstream so they can continue their adventure! To learn more about the DEC's glass eel monitoring, click here.
—-AJ Johnson, Associate Director of Outreach and Volunteers