Electric eels are known to produce up to 600 volts of electricity that can even knock over a horse. Now scientists at the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee have discovered that a jolt from the scaleless Amazonian fish does more than stun its prey. Researchers found that electric eels use an electroshock mechanism, just like a Taser, to “remotely control their prey.”
Electric eels can immobilize or make their prey ‘jump’
According to a study published in the Dec.4 issue of the journal Science, the eel’s electric impulses briefly paralyze the fish they hunt by causing muscle contractions. Dr Kenneth Catania, lead author of the study, said that an electric eel produces 400 high-voltage pulses per second, compared to just 19 from a Taser. Eels can also cause the prey to “jump” and reveal their whereabouts.
It makes the fish easier to capture. The eels can either immobilize the target or make it move out of its hiding. Catania and his colleagues tested the electric eels’ hunting abilities in small aquatic arenas. Upon spotting their prey, the eels released electric pulses that immobilized the fish. Scientists found that the electric pulses activated the nerves that controlled muscles of their prey.
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When an eel emitted longer pulses, the victim became still in four-hundredth of a second. They just stay that way for a while, and the eel could easily scoop them up. But when their potential meal was out of view, the hungry electric eels would emit pairs of pulses or doubles. It generates a quick and very strong muscle contraction, forcing the prey to jump and reveal its location.
Scientists studying electric eels at a molecular level
It raises the question as to how the eels can manipulate nerves of another fish even without making themselves freeze? Dr Catania doesn’t have an answer. But other researchers are studying electric eels at a molecular level to find out how they have “built” a battery from the muscle tissue. Electric eels weigh up to 4.5 pounds and measure up to eight feet long.