Weird Critter Profile: Electric Eel


There are few creatures out there odder than the electric eel.  Here's why:

  • Electic eel FLICKR Electric eels have special cells called electrocytes that store energy like a battery.  If threatened, the electric eel can discharge 600 volts, which is five times more electricity than is produced by a standard electrical outlet. 
  • There are other fish that have the ability to store and release electricity, but none can dispense a charge anywhere near as great as the electric eel.
  • Electric eels constantly put off about 10 volts of electricity, which they use as a sort of sonar to navigate in the murky waters of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins in South America where they live.
  • Because of their electric abilities, the electric eel has virtually no predators.
  • Electric eels feed on fish, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians and even small mammals.  They can use electric charges to stun their prey.
  • While they have gills like all fish, electric eels get about 80 percent of their oxygen from the air.  They periodically gulp air from the surface and absorb oxygen through blood vessels in their mouths.  This helps them survive in warm, low-oxygen waters.
  • They can reach up to 8 feet in length.
  • Scientists are studying the electric eel's abilities for possible medical applications.
  • Despite the name, electric eels are actually a kind of knifefish related to catfish, not true eels.

VIDEO: Watch my latest appearance on the Today Show, where I show Kathie Lee and Hoda an electric eel and where a bird has a close encounter!

Photo: wallyg via Flickr.

David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >







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