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Episode 142: Shocked by Electric Eels

This week leads us to another radical animal, the Electric Eel. By far one of the most incredible biological adaptations are this animal’s ability to naturally produce electricity. We delve into the eels ability to produce a shock as high as 860 volts. By far one of the strongest shocks produced by any known animal. Listen and learn to be amazed by our natural world.

Electric Eel History

Electric eels are not actually true “eels” but rather a knifefish. However, they are called an eel due to their similar appearance. Electric Eels are from the Order Gymnotiformes and as of 2019 were thought to the be the only species in the genus Electrophorus. Recent discoveries in the Amazon now have scientists thinking there are now three separate species of Electric Eels, with ongoing analysis now. The scientific name for the Electric Eel is Electrophorus electricus.

There is not a lot known about the evolutionary history of knifefish. However, scientists have been able to estimate that electricity producing fish can be traced back nearly 200 million years. The only known fossil for a relative to the Electric Eel, traces its ancestor back 7 million years to Bolivia.

Electric Eel Physiology

By far, the most exciting aspect of the Electric Eel is its ability to produce an electric charge. The range for its major electric shock is as low as 600 volts, up to 860 volts. The Electric Eel is able to do this through a specialized cell called an electrocyte. The electric shock produced is all natural and is intended to stun its prey. Or in some instances used as defense against predators. The Electric Eel’s physiology is about 20% major body organs (heart, digestive, etc) and about 80% electricity producing organs. The three main organs are the Sach’s electric organ used for navigation, and then its Hunter’s organ, and the Main electric organ. All work in concert to support the eels navigation in its murky environment, its ability to sense prey, and then the delivery of a major shock to stun its prey.

More can be seen or read:

Electric eel tank

Dr. Ken Catania Eel Lab Video

Electric Eel Mouth

Electric Eel leap out of water

Electric Eel hunting

These are just amazing animals with incredible abilities.

Electric Eel Conservation

Fortunately, Electric Eels are considered least concern by the IUCN. However, as discussed in the podcast the Amazon is nearing a tipping point, which threatens thousands upon thousands of species. The paper we discussed in the podcast can be found HERE.


Wildlife Conservation Society 






February 11, 2020
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