Fresh new research from Vanderbilt University indicates that not only are electric eels capable of generating large amounts of electricity (and contain it while submerged under water) but they can also use that electricity to remotely control its prey.
It is capable of generating powerful electric shocks of up to 650 volts, which it uses for hunting, self-defense and communicating with fellow eels. It is the apex predator. Despite its name, it is not an eel, but rather a knifefish.
Kenneth Catania, biologist with Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN describes how electric eels hunt. He says:
“People had known since the 70’s that eels give off these pairs of pulses—or doublets—as they explore looking for food. Usually when they’re excited and they know that food is around but can’t find it. It actually turns out that this generates very rapid and strong [muscle] contraction.”
It is only when the eel detects any motion that it unleashes its attack. Neurobiologist Mark Nelson, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has studied electrical fish.
Although he was not part of the study, he comments on this particular feature of the electric eel, the hunter: “That makes it more clever on the part of the eel. Rather than just stun and strike whatever’s around, it probes.”
Then after it makes its first hyper-fast strike, the eel will suck on its prey continuously shocking the prey until it is completely immobilized.
Catania describes “When the eel’s pulses slow down—then the eel gets tired at the end of its attack—you see individual fish twitches, with one twitch from every pulse. That tells us that the eel is reaching in to the prey’s nervous system, controlling its muscles.”
In conclusion, Dr. Catania remarks that these animals are “just fascinating in their own right.” She continues, “It’s amazing in the first place that they can give off electricity. To use that to control their prey’s nervous system is incredible.”
The Electric Eel Is More Than A Mysterious Fish.