Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 13: 265–279, 2003.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The genus Anguilla Schrank, 1798: current state of knowledge and
Laboratoire d’Ichtyo´ecologie Tropicale et M´editerran´eenne, EPHE – CNRS UMR 8046, Universit´e de Perpignan,
52 Avenue Paul Alduy, 66860 Perpignan Cedex, France (Phone: 33 4 68 66 17 01; Fax: 33 4 68 50 36 86; E-mail:
Accepted 25 August 2003
Abstract page 265
The species 267
Geographical distribution 268
Morphometric characters 268
Biochemical polymorphisms 271
Key words: Anguilla sp., morphometry, phylogeny, polymorphisms, status
The freshwater eels of the genus Anguilla Schrank are widely distributed. They have been considered for a
long time to all have a catadromous spawning strategy. However, in a recent work Tsukamoto et al. (2002)
considered that catadromy should be seen as facultative. They all have a long oceanic larval stage known as the
leptophalus stage. A large number of studies on their ecology, biology, and physiology exist but little attention
has been focused on their systematics and species-relationships. Ege (1939) described 19 species and sub-species
based on morphometric data. Castle and Williamson (1974) made A. ancestralis a synonym of A. celebesensis.
Morphological characters, however, have limitations as taxonomic characters because they overlapped in most
species. Biochemical characters, such as mt-DNA, are more informative. Dijkstra and Jellyman (1999) found no
genetic differences between A. australis australis and A. a. schmidtti, and now 15 species are widely recognized.
Phylogenetic studies (Aoyama and Tsukamoto, 1997) suggest descendant-ancestor relationships between Atlantic
and Paciﬁc eels, respectively. The most likely dispersal route for the Atlantic eels from the Paciﬁc appears to have
been through the Tethys Sea. Two species are found in the Atlantic: A. anguilla and A. rostrata. They both spawn
in the Sargasso Sea, but differ in morphometric and genetic traits, and are considered as two separate species with
a relatively recent evolutionary divergence. The purpose of this paper is to present knowledge and questions about
the life history, taxonomy, and evolution of this mysterious genus.