March–April 2024

Young Naturalists

A Slippery Mystery

Meet the American eel—one of Minnesota’s rarest fishes.

Christine Petersen

When you think of Minnesota, you probably don’t picture the ocean. After all, our state sits at the center of the continent, and the closest seashore is far away. But there is a creature that connects these two distant and very different environments. It’s one of our state’s rarest fishes: the American eel.

Few of us will ever catch a glimpse of a wild eel in Minnesota, but seeing it in photos, you might wonder if it’s a real animal or a mythological mashup. Long and ribbon-shaped, the eel looks like a strange cross between a fish and a snake.

The eel’s way of life adds to its mystery. Baby American eels are found only in the ocean. But adult eels sometimes show up far inland, including in Minnesota, where they live for many years before returning to the sea.

Why and how do eels travel so far? And what do they do in the years between life journeys? These are puzzles that biologists are still working to solve.

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