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.