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Beware the curled electric eel

The electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) is not actually an eel, but a type of fish (unlike the Japanese freshwater eel, which can glow under certain types of light.) The ‘eels’ are capable of generating powerful electric shocks of up to 600 volts. These bolts of pain are used for hunting, self-defense, and also, at lower levels of voltage, for communicating with fellow eels. Furthermore, the eels can use electric fields to sense the position of targets and use electrical signals to guide them towards their final strikes

Electric eels inhabit fresh waters of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins in South America. Electric eels are classed as knifefish (Gymnotiformes.) A typical electric eel, with its elongated, cylindrical body, is around 2 meters (almost 7 feet) in length. Electric eels of this size weight around 20 kilos (or 44 pounds.) Electricity is produced due to cells located in three of the fish’s abdominal organs.

While many facts are known about the electric eel, it is only in the last year that the biologist Kenneth Catania observed that electric eels occassionally curl their bodies around their prey to deliver a very powerful electric bolt. According to The Atlantic, in a review of Catania’s work, this process allows the eel to deliver a greater charge without exerting any additional muscular effort.

Catania showed the variations in the electrical voltage by fitting electrodes to dead fish and recording the voltage.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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