We’ve seen eel art before, but actually don’t know much about these fish or their biology. Electric eels are even more fascinating for obvious reasons, but of course are also that much more mysterious to us. National Geographic science writer Ed Yong fills us in with the help of Vanderbilt University biologist Ken Catania below:
A fish swims in the Amazon, amid murky water and overgrown vegetation. It is concealed, but it’s not safe. Suddenly, two rapid bursts of electricity course through the water, activating the neurons that control the fish’s muscles. It twitches, giving away its position, and dooming itself. Now, it gets zapped by a continuous volley of electric pulses. All its muscles contract and its body stiffens. It can’t escape; it can’t even move. Its attacker—an electric eel—moves in for the kill.
The electric eel can (in)famously create its own electricity. More than four-fifths of its two-metre-long body consists of special battery-like cells, which can collectively deliver a jolt of up to 600 volts. But the way the eel uses that ability is even more shocking. Kenneth Catania from Vanderbilt University has found that this astonishing predator can use its electricity like a remote control, activating its prey’s muscles from afar. It effectively has a button that says “Reveal Yourself” and another that says “Freeze”.
“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve encountered in studying animals, and I’ve seen a lot of unusual things” says Catania. He’s not exaggerating. This is a man who showed that crocodile faces are more sensitive than our fingertips, that tentacled snakes can persuade prey to swim into their mouths, and that star-nosed moles blow bubbles to smell underwater. Guy knows amazing and unusual.
You can read the original article in NatGeo’s Phenomena section here.