The Electric World of Eels

By Alexandra

Have you ever been shocked by an eel? Well, Dr. Kenneth C. Catania, an eel specialist, spent hours studying these slimy green sea creatures, uncovering what was really behind the power of their shock. In a 2014 study, Catania measured the power of the shock, and in 2015, a new study showed the way eels deliver their shock. Catania’s work reveals the true power of eels and the way they see the world.

On December 2014, Dr. Kenneth C. Catania made the fascinating discovery that eels can be used for technology, also known as ‘batteries.’ He used video footage from Vanderbilt University, and found out that an eel’s shock gives out 600 volts, and 400 electric pulses a second. Even though Dr. Catania works with these animals all the time he comments, “It’s extraordinary to me.” Catania’s goal was to measure how powerful an eel’s shock and sting is, and his discovery shows an eel’s shock is five times the power of a United States wall socket. Catania discovered the surprising power of eels.

Because of their strange appearance, distance from us, and our little knowledge of these creatures, many people misunderstand and fear electric eels. Eels live in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, where they have cylindrical bodies, flattened heads, and dark green, yellowish-gray skin. It is rare to die from an electrocution, however it is possible if you have heart failure. Sometimes you can even drown from a stunning jolt. Even though electric eels can be frightening, they are only trying to survive, and have no intention of hurting humans. If we overcome our fear of eels we will be able to realize how interesting and fascinating eels can be.

Dr. Catania continued to learn how eels shock their prey. He discovered this in June 2015, by entering a fake arm into a tank with an electric eel. Lights in the arm light up when the eel strikes, so they know that nerves are being stung. This shows that eels electrify their prey by simulating their prey’s nerves. These control its muscles and cause them to freeze, and doing this makes it easier for eels to scoop up prey. Also Catania discovered that eels can make short jumps out of the water to sting their prey. According to Catania, this attack is “both literally and figuratively shocking.” He learned this from the famous battle between horses and eels  that Alexander von Humboldt witnessed about 200 years ago, when eels jumped out of the water attacking the horses with their electric shock. Because of Catania’s dedication to the study of eels, we now know more about these creatures’ ability.

In the end, Dr. Kenneth C. Catania’s discovery now makes us realize the beauty of the ocean and all the creatures and animals in it. The studies in 2014 and 2015 give us a greater perspective on an eel’s shock. After Catania’s study, the question remains: how do eels get their energy or electricity to give their shock, and how did these strange animals come to be?

Sources:

National Geographic

The New York Times

 Research News at Vanderbilt University