Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 355–379 | Cite as

Life history and morphology of Eel Larvae in the Gulf of Guinea of western Africa: revisiting Jacques Blache’s research (1960–1977) 40 years later

  • Michael J. MillerEmail author
  • Tony Robinet


Eel larvae (leptocephali) are rarely studied extensively both spatially and temporally, and detailed illustrations of most species are limited. This study uses the unique research reported in the monograph of Blache (Leptocéphales des poissons anguilliformes dans la zone sud du golfe de Guinée. ORSTOM Faune Tropicale 10:1–381, 1977, in French) to describe and evaluate the species composition, abundance, life history characteristics and morphology of 10,284 anguilliform leptocephali collected throughout the year during 15 ichthyoplankton surveys (1960–1971) in relation to regional oceanography. Leptocephali of 70 species of 7 families were described, with Ophichthidae (26 species), Muraenidae (13), and Congridae (13) being the most diverse, and local spawning indicated by ≥ 34 species. Larvae of biogeographically restricted Heterencheylidae eels (mud eels) were abundant along the continental shelf and 5 species comprised 35% of total catches. Their larval distributions may reflect adult depth-segregation from nearshore/estuaries to the outer shelf and slope and larval retention. Nettastomatid leptocephali of Hoplunnis punctata were the most abundant species, and Rhynchoconger sp., Uroconger syringinus, Chlopsis olokun, and Dalophis boulengeri were also abundant. Small leptocephali distributions indicated spawning occurred over or near the continental shelf, and length-frequency data indicated most spawning was during the November–May warm-water season. Detailed morphology illustrations showed the characteristics of all stages of larvae. The Gulf of Guinea eel fauna is not diverse compared to the Indo-Pacific possibly due to phylogeography and a lack of coral reef habitats and the unusual low-latitude seasonal influx of cold surface waters, but is unique in being the worldwide center of distribution of the burrowing eels of the Heterencheylidae.


Anguilliformes Gulf of Guinea Heterenchelyidae Larval distribution Leptocephali Metamorphosis 



This paper was made possible by the plankton sampling effort of the staff of ORSTOM and of course by the remarkable work of Jacques Blache (1922–1994). The monograph overviewed here formed the basis of his PhD thesis. The effort required them to collect, identify, measure and illustrate the distributions and morphology of more 10,000 leptocephali, and we are gratified to help bring some of the results of that work into this paper as a tribute to J. Blache and his colleagues for their work in the Gulf of Guinea. Support for M.J.M. was provided by the Eel Science Laboratory of K. Tsukamoto, and M. Shimizu assisted with scanning the illustrations of leptocephali. Any remaining copies of the monograph can be obtained from the French Museum of Natural History, and during the writing of this paper, an electronic copy of the monograph became available online as shown in the reference section, which now makes it available to scientists worldwide.

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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine Science and Resources, College of Bioresource SciencesNihon UniversityFujisawaJapan
  2. 2.UMR BOREA (Biologie des Organismes et Ecosystèmes Aquatiques), Museum National d’Histoire NaturelleStation marine de ConcarneauConcarneauFrance

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