Monday, 12 May 2014

Week 50: European Conger Eel (‘Conger conger’)

The European Conger was @SpeciesofUK from 10th to 16th February, 2014.

The European conger is a large species of eel that is common and widespread round the UK and Irish coasts.[1]

European Conger
[Flickr Creative Commons © Frank Gloystein]

Congers are long, powerful and renowned as being fearsome predators.

Eels are a type of elongated fish.

There are about 800 species of eel across the world. Together they make up the Anguilliformes family.[2]

Eels differ from most other fish in the design of their fins. Eels have no pelvic fin and often no pectoral fins either. The dorsal, anal and tail fins are fused into a long ribbon running down the eel's length.[3]

Conger eels are a subgrouping of eels. They contain some of the largest eel species and are also important food fishes. All conger eel species look very similar.[4]

The European conger is the largest conger eel of all. In fact it's the largest eel of any kind in the world.[5]

European Conger
[Flickr Creative Commons © Cristophe Quintin]

Congers only live in sea water.

The European conger is native to the northeast Atlantic from Norway to Senegal, including the Mediterranean and Black Seas.[6] It is common and widespread round the UK coast.[7]

It prefer rough ground, preferably a reef or a wreck with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in.[8]

European Conger
[Wikimedia Commons © West Brom 4ever]

The European conger sticks close to the coast when young, moving deeper when adult. The typical range is up to 500m although it has been seen as deep as 1,170m.[9]

Juvenile European congers can sometimes be found in deep, seaweed-covered rock pools on the low shore.[10]

The European conger is huge.

It can reach a whopping 3m in length and 110kg in weight.[11] Females are lighter and smaller, at up to 1m long maximum.[12]

The biggest European conger ever recorded was 158kg. It was found trapped in nets off Iceland's Westmann Islands.[13]

The European conger has scale-less skin. It is grey-blue or black in colour with a row of white spots on the flank and a white or pale golden belly.[14]

In deeper water the European conger typically has a lighter brown back with grey sides and belly.[15]

The European conger has an almost conical head, slightly depressed in shape, with a rounded and prominent snout with small tube-like nostrils.[16]

European Conger Head
[Flickr Creative Commons © Alfonso González]

The upper jaw of the European conger protrudes beyond the lower. It has conical teeth arranged in rows on the jaws.[17]

Like most other eels, the dorsal, tail and anal fins of European Congers are fused in a long fringe around the body. However it has separate pectoral fins.[18]

The Fins of the European Conger
[Wikimedia Commons © Gervais et Boulart]

Small congers can be confused with common eels. The surest distinguishing feature is the dorsal fin, which starts much closer to the head on the conger.[19]

Common Eel 'Anguilla anguilla'
[Wikimedia Commons © Ron Offermans]

The BBC has a great video about conger eels filmed during a night dive.

European congers usually live amongst rocks.

They reside in holes or ‘eel pits’ amongst rocks or, just as often, within manmade wreckage.[20]

European Conger in Wreckage
[Flickr Creative Commons © Ben Thompson]

European Congers can sometimes be seen sharing holes with moray eels![21]

Moray Eel and European Conger
[Wikimedia Commons © Hectonichus]

Congers come out from their holes at night to hunt.[22] They are renowned as being fearsome, and mainly predate fish, cephalopods and crustaceans.[23]

Conger eels are very strong and have been known to attack divers. However, they are docile unless provoked.[24] Here is a rare story of a conger eel attack.

Like other conger eels, European congers reproduce only once in their life.

At some point at between five and fifteen years of age, European congers migrate to deeper water to spawn.[25]

The best known European conger spawning site is located in the Mediterranean near Sardinia. It is likely they may also spawn around the Azores.[26]

Sexual maturity occurs during the European conger's migration towards the spawning areas.[27]

The female European conger produces from between three and eight million eggs.[28]

After they've spawned, European congers then die due to irreversible and fatal changes to their body that have occurred during the reproductive process.[29]

The larvae of European congers then drift north and east until they reach shallower waters where the lengthy larval development is completed.[30]

European congers can be eaten as a food fish.

Populations of European congers are very vulnerable to fishing. This is because they only spawn once, at the end of their life, so when they’re caught they are unlikely to have had a chance to breed.[31]

European Conger Caught by Angler
[Flickr Creative Commons © Maggie]

The Marine Conservation Society recommends not eating conger eels because of this vulnerability.[32]

That said, European congers are sometimes eaten. They are said to have a sweet taste with a firm texture and can be served smoked, canned, fresh or jellied.[33]

Strange but true…

Conger eels hit the news recently when the American actress Gillian Anderson posed naked with one for a photo-shoot to highlight diminishing fish stocks. Read more here.


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