For years, scientists knew little about the elusive and dangerous electric eels. Finding a home in the Amazon, these eels have been known as one species. But recently, scientists discovered they are not one, but three distinct species. In addition, a newly discovered species Electrophorus voltai, is shockingly powerful, with shocks measured at 860 volts, well over the previous record of 650. But why are these eels so special? And are they really "eels"?
One of the most surprising things about electric eels is that, they aren't actually eels. They are actually a type of knifefish, growing over 8 feet in length. Even as the Amazon forests burn and the impact of man has never been more evident, scientists are still finding new species every day, pointing to countless more that are waiting to be discovered, if we manage to keep the rain forest alive long enough.
Where Does the Shock Come From?
Using electricity generated in three separate organs in their bodies that make up 80% of their body length, these eels generate electricity through these organs, using thousands of small cells called electrocytes. While one cell generates very little charge on its own, thousands of them can produce the charge electric eels are so famous for.
These eels are dangerous prey for nature's natural predators, like the alligator. This alligator grabbed an eel, but was immediately given electric jolts into its body from the eel, actually killing the alligator in the end. Like mothers always say, be careful what you eat.
Did You Know?
In 1799, Alessandro Volta created a large stack of zinc and copper discs, each separated by cardboard soaked in salt. This was the world's first synthetic battery ever created, but the inspiration for his invention was actually the body of the electric eel.
Their Bodies Are Being Used Again For Electric Innovation
200 years ago, eels inspired the first synthetic batteries. Now, Michael Mayer, a head researcher at the University of Fribourg has created a new type of power source that mimics the eel's electricity generating organs. Multi-colored gels, arranged in long rows similar to eels' electrocytes, are pressed together, generating electricity from their contact. Though still in the beginning stages, one day the research team hopes this technology can be used to power various implants, like pacemakers.
The idea would be to use our own bodies fluids and salt content into an electricity generator. Imagine wearing contacts that could store enough electricity to charge your phone. This is still all flights of fancy, but who knows what could happen if they keep developing the technology.
Not Even National Geographic is Immune
A team on National Geographic got a first-hand experience what its like just to be touched by an electric eel. This guy's reaction says it all.
How Does The Eel Shock Something?
Eels are literally like a charged battery, with a positive end (the nose) and the negative end (tail). Eels, when attacking predators, will wriggle themselves up, and the more of their body is in contact with the predator, the stronger the shock becomes. This crocodile stand-in demonstrates what happens when eels strike back.