In the days before running water, towns used to place an eel or two in the well to keep the water supply free of bugs, algae, and other critters. A Swedish well-eel that lived to be at least 155 years old died recently. Eels generally live to be around seven years old in the wild.
Åle was put in the well in the fishing village of Brantevik on the southeastern tip of Sweden by eight-year-old Samuel Nilsson in 1859. This was a common practice in a time when running water was rare (Stockholm only got public water mains in the 1850s; it took more than a century after that for waterworks to be installed in smaller towns) and a good eel could keep the home’s water supply free of bugs, worms, eggs, algae and any other number of critters. European eels will even eat carrion, so they’re extremely helpful additions to a well.
This particular eel has been a star for close to a hundred years, garnering articles in the paper, TV news stories and documentaries, even making an appearance in the Swedish Tom Sawyer, Bombi Bitt and I written by Fritiof Nilsson Piraten in 1932. Thomas Kjellman, current owner of the cottage, remembers Åle from when he was a boy. His family bought the house in 1962 with the understanding that the eel came with the property.
Luckily the family has a backup eel which is around 110 years old, swimming around in what is apparently a Fountain of Youth for eels.