Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Aspects of the Biology of Juvenile Freshwater Eels (Anguillidae) in New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-08, 04:36 authored by Jellyman, Donald John

The early freshwater life of the two species of New Zealand freshwater eels, Anguilla australis schmidtii Phillipps and A. dieffenbachii Gray was studied involving an examination of 8131 glass-eels, 5275 migratory elvers, and 4291 resident eels of less than 26 cm. Most eels were collected from the Makara Stream, Wellington by set-net, hand-net and electric fishing. These extensive samples together with subsidiary collections from elsewhere in New Zealand show that glass-eels of both species arrive in fresh-water from July to December. Their otoliths indicate a marine larval life of about 18 months but it is not possible as yet to locate the precise oceanic spawning areas. Migratory movements of glass-eels are in two phases: an invasion of fresh-water from the sea and an upstream migration. The former occurs only at night with a periodicity corresponding to the daily ebb-flood tidal rhythms. There is a seasonal reversal in this response which is attributable to the onset of the behavioural transition taking place prior to the second migratory phase. Increased pigmentation and changes in response to light, flowing fresh-water and schooling tendencies characterise this latter migration which occurs primarily at spring tide periods. Such juvenile eels show specific habitat preferences and a high degree of olfactory differentiation of water types. This behaviour, together with pigment development and physical tolerances, was studied in the laboratory. Measurements of invading glass-eels show that mean length, weight and condition all decline throughout the season of arrival but mean vertebral numbers remain constant. An upstream migration of small eels (elvers) occurs each summer and is readily observed at many hydro-electric stations. These migrations, comprising eels of mixed sizes and age groups, penetrate progressively further upstream each year. In both species, scales begin formation at body lengths of 16.5-20 cm. All features of scale formation, including the number of scale rings, are related to length with relative differences in rate of development occurring between the species. In contrast to scale rings, otolith rings are annual in formation and become visible after grinding or burning the otolith. Growth rates established for 273 eels to 29 cm in length from the Makara Stream, Wellington, are slow, with mean annual increments of 2.2 and 2.1 cm respectively for shortfins and longfins. In contrast, shortfins from a coastal lake near Wellington reach 26 cm in their third year of freshwater life. Length-weight relationships for small eels are given together with mean monthly condition factors. Growth studies on elvers held in a multiple tank unit in which temperature, density, and amount and frequency of feeding could be controlled, show that young eels grow more slowly than normal under such conditions. However, growth appears optimum at 20 degrees C with a feeding rate of 5-7% body weight per day. Feeding efficiency decreases with higher temperatures. At both glass-eel and elver stages, shortfins adapt and survive better under artificial conditions.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Castle, P H J; Salmon, J T