Many believe that electric eels are primitive, unsophisticated creatures that have only one tool in their arsenal: specialized cells called electrocytes that give off up to 600 volts to quash the prey or ward off predators. That’s five times the voltage in a standard wall socket. Now scientists have discovered that eels also employ sophisticated tactics to double the voltage of their jolts when trying to quell a larger or difficult prey.
Juvenile electric eels use this tactic more frequently
Neurobiologist Dr Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University published findings of his study in the journal Current Biology. The eels found in muddy waterways of Amazon and Orinoco basins curl their bodies to adjust the position of negative and positive poles of their electric organ, which effectively doubles their zapping power. Catania has been studying eels for years. Last year, he discovered that electric eels use electroshock to “remote control” their prey and force them to reveal their location.
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During his research, Catania noticed that juvenile eels that are between 3 and 10 inches long and have less shocking power, curled up during their electric attack. The adult eels use this strategy only when attacking a difficult or large prey. To find out what happens to the prey when the eel curls its body around the prey, Catania and his colleagues took brain-dead fish equipped with electrodes, placed it near an eel, and monitored the voltage when the eel attacked.
Scientists have been studying electric eels for centuries, but…
Researchers were surprised to see that the voltage the creature delivers more than doubled when it curled its body. It’s a testament that an animal that has been studied for centuries was doing amazing things that we were unaware of until now. Curling the body brings the positive pole of its electric organ located in its head close to the negative pole located in the tail.
By placing the two poles near each other, with the prey trapped in between, the eel doubles the voltage inflicted. It then batters the prey with a series of shocks, causing rapid, involuntary fatigue in muscles of the unfortunate animal. It paralyzes the prey temporarily.