The morphological and physiological characteristics of migrating and non-migrating female tropical eels, Anguilla celebesensis and Anguilla marmorata were examined in relation to their downstream migration on central Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. Migrating eels (64 A. celebesensis and 37 A. marmorata) were obtained from weirs set near the outlet area of Poso Lake and non-migrating eels (21 A. celebesensis and 21 A. marmorata) were sampled by set-lines and eel pots in Poso Lake, its inlet rivers, and in the La River system during February 2009 to October 2010. In both species, values of eye index, pectoral-fin length index, gonado-somatic index (IG), hepato-somatic index, swimbladder-somatic index and cardio-somatic index of migrating eels were significantly higher than those of non-migrating eels and the gut-somatic index values of the migrating eels were significantly lower than that of non-migrating eels. When silvering stages of eels were classified by the silvering index for Anguilla japonica, in A. celebesensis, all non-migrating eels were Y1 stage and the migrating eels consisted of Y2, S1 and S2 stages eels. In A. marmorata, the non-migrating eels consisted of Y1 and Y2 eels, and the migrating eels consisted of Y2 and S1 eels, but there were no S2 eels. Results of principal component analysis (PCA) of morphological and physiological variables suggested that these characteristics changed drastically between the Y1 and Y2 stages in A. celebesensis, while A. marmorata showed a gradual change with silvering, which differs from the temperate species A. japonica. The mean ±s.d. IG value of migrating A. celebesensis (6·9 ± 1·8, 3·3–11·4) was very high and that of A. marmorata (3·1 ± 0·8, 1·8–5·7) was comparatively low. The very different rates of maturation that were found between these two species provide support for the hypothesis that the reproductive characteristics of silver eels can reflect their migration scale.