lesson and unit plans

Intermediate / Secondary

Cold-blooded vertebrate: the mysterious and amazing Eel

  • For thousand’s of years the gourmets’ delight—but no pregnant ones: Where are they all coming from?
  • A life-cycle weirder than anyone guessed
  • Meet the man who spent much of his life tracking down the unexpected birthplace of eels
  • The still unsolved mystery of eels’ migration

Biology – Ages 9 to 14.

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Opening narrative:

  1. General orientation: The life cycle and anatomy of this cold-blooded vertebrate may initially seem an unlikely object for one of the most mysterious creatures with one of the weirdest life-cycles on the planet. But the mystery of eels’ origins, the remarkable story of tracing their birthplace, and their strange developments as they float on ocean tides for months and years, makes for a mystery story to equal anything in fiction.
  2. Narrative introduction: Even though eels were a delicacy for the gourmets of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, there was a small problem. No one had ever seen a pregnant eel. Where were they all coming from? It wasn’t until the late 19th century that someone pulled some larvae floating in the Mediterranean onto a boat, put them in a tank of water and noticed after some time that the larvae had turned into elvers—baby eels.

Heroic quality:
Persistence and ingenuity. These heroic qualities are represented in our narrative by Johannes Schmidt.

Engaging image:
The Danish scientist Johannes Schmidt on the decks of various ships criss-crossing the Atlantic from Iceland to the Canary Islands, from North Africa to North America, pulling endless catches aboard and examining their contents in his unrelenting attempt to unravel the mystery of the life-cycle of eels. He began his search in 1904 and continued for twenty years, suspending his voyages reluctantly during the First World War. His unremarked voyages, single-mindedly pursuing knowledge about eels, challenge those of legendary Sinbads or Jasons, and those of Drake, Magellan, and Cook. And what was he doing all those years, braving the Atlantic ocean in all weathers? He was looking for younger and younger eels, elvers, larvae, and tracing them by age in order to locate their breeding grounds.

This unit is designed to take approx. one to two weeks with students from ages 9 to 14.