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Biodiversity Blog


A Case for Eels

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 Hannah Chapman Tripp helps set the specimen jar. (Photo: Adam Cohen)

The Life Science Library on the second floor of the Main Building is something to behold. With its high ceilings displaying quotations in gold paint, to the massive chandeliers, some have likened it to Hogwarts, the fictional British boarding school of magic in J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.

Now there’s something extra special in this amazing library.

Just to your right as you enter, there is a display case showcasing the American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). The photos in this blog (and on Facebook) speak for themselves, but what you may not know about are the cross-departmental efforts to develop and make the display case. The specimen, collected in Austin in 2012, is from UT's Ichthyology Collection in the Department of Integrative Biology. The glass tube holding the specimen is handmade by Adam Kennedy, a scientific glassblower in the Department of Chemistry. Kennedy also made the beautiful small glass sculptures beneath it. These sculptures represent both the larva as well as the intermediary stage between larva and adult. The latter are called “glass eels,” so it’s appropriate they are made of glass! 

The lit box beneath the specimen was crafted by John Maisano, Collections and Facilities Support Manager from the Jackson School of Geosciences. It displays a beautiful image of an eel larva at a sufficiently high resolution so that even the details of the rudimentary fins are visible. Jessie Maisano, researcher at UTs High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility in the Jackson School, did the CT scan of the specimen. The photo is by Sönke Johnsen from the Biology Department at Duke University.

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 Glass sculptures. Close up photograph of the leptocephalus (larva)


Ichthyology Collection staff compiled the photos and literature posted on the back panel, which shares information about this species' presence in Texas obtained as part of their research conducted with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, There is also an image of the Eel's life cycle journey. Most readers will most likely also discover how little they previously knew about this amazing species, and some will discover they've actually eaten it unknowingly. 

Not to be missed is the case on the opposite side of the entry, showcasing literature on the eel. These library materials are each available for request and check out to feed your newly found anguilliform fascination. Organized by Hannah Chapman Tripp, Biosciences Librarian, the books featured are aimed toward a range of audiences from general readership to the more scientifically inclined, and even include a children’s picture book. 

If you’ve had the good fortune to have seen an eel or know someone who has, you can assist the Ichthyology Collection by clicking here. Data collected helps create a comprehensive eel occurrence database, assisting with a better understanding of their distribution and how it’s changed over time.

So if you’re on the UT campus, swing by the Life Science Library for a look at this stunning display of this fascinating creature.  

IMG 5380Photo: Adam Cohen 

Eels piqued your interest?

The Biodiversity Center has several articles on them, including an article featuring psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s work with them, and a video of copius eel slime. You may also find more resources on them via Texas ScholarWorks and the Ichthyology Collection. See links below...

Sigmund and His Eels 

American Eels in the Fish Collection 

Texas ScholarWorks presentation on American Eels 

Webpage on American Eel via the lab of Dean Hendrickson, Curator in the Ichthyology Collection 

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