Origins of the freshwater attractant(s) of migrating elvers of the American eel were investigated by assaying elvers' responses to rinses of plants, animals, and inanimate objects collected from a Rhode Island (U.S.A.) brook with a sizable elver run. Odor rinses were tested in a Y-maze at naturally occurring concentrations against both blank and brook water. Many items were attractive, several were repulsive, and some caused a reduction in elvers' rheotactic behavior, suggesting that elvers respond to a bouquet of odors. The odor of abundant decaying leaf detritus was highly attractive as were odors of the surfaces of aquatic plants, submerged stones, and migrating alewives. Conspecific odor was only weakly attractive. Because unattractive leaves became attractive when cultured with stream water, microorganisms responsible for detrital decomposition and present in/on most stream objects are thought to be the major source of the attractant(s). Decaying detritus and its associated microorganisms are abundant in most freshwater streams, where they often constitute the ecosystem's primary energy source; their odor could serve as an index of environmental suitability for migrating eels.