Electric Eels Can Stun Their Prey

Electric Eels Can Stun Their Prey

Electric eels can incapacitate prey by producing a stunning 660-volt zap of electricity, but what’s really shocking is how they use that power. Until now the mechanism of the eel’s attack was a mystery, but a recent experimental study reveals the shocking predatory power of these fish.

Electric eels – Electrophorus electricus, are one of several species of electrical fish but they are the most powerful, with around 80% of their bodies composed of specialized cells that effectively work as biological batteries.

They breathe air and surface regularly to do so. A special mucous membrane in their mouths absorbs oxygen from the air, helping them to survive during the dry season.

Electric eels live in muddy freshwater in and around the Amazon and Orinoco River. They have extremely poor vision and to sense their environment, they send out low-voltage pulses of power which act like a radar. Electrical eels, however, have evolved a high-voltage charge to defend themselves and to capture prey.

The charges work from the eel’s side of things – they start their attack when the cells discharge a high-frequency burst of high-voltage pulses. At 660v, these pulses have several times the power of standard mains electricity.

An eel’s electrical discharges can efficiently induce muscle contractions in their prey, as they mimic the electrical pulses that the fish’s own neurons send to stimulate muscle movement. The eel effectively hijacks the target’s neural pathways.

Escape is prevented by further high-frequency volleys of electricity. These trigger massive, involuntary, whole-body muscle contractions in the prey. This shocking predatory strike ensures detected prey can be immobilized and seized.

There’s no safe hiding place from this electrical predator. It can emit bursts of charges that cause a massive involuntary twitch in concealed prey.

 

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