Animals

How Do Eels Make Electricity?

Electric eels are some of the most feared creatures because of their shock, but how does the electric shock work?

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Electric eels are truly amazing animals. This knife fish are most commonly found in the Amazon River Basin in South America. Eels have thousands of special negatively charged cells called electrocytes. The inside of these cells have a negative charge, while the outside remains positive.

As soon as the eel detects a prey (or a potential threat), the electrocytes open, sodium ions flood the cells, creating positive and negative ends-as well as an electrical current. The charge can be as high as 600 volts, which is just about enough to shock and kill a small fish. Eels also use their electric currents as a stealth hunting mechanism-a sensory tool that detects traces of nearby fish. To increase their voltage, eels contort into a tight curl-an effective way to kill larger fish while they hunt.

Learn More:
Electric eels use high-voltage to track fast-moving prey (Nature)
"Electric eels are legendary for their ability to incapacitate fish, humans, and horses with hundreds of volts of electricity. The function of this output as a weapon has been obvious for centuries but its potential role for electroreception has been overlooked."

Electric Eels Concentrate Their Electric Field to Induce Involuntary Fatigue in Struggling Prey (Cell)
"In a typical attack, eel discharges cause brief, immobilizing tetanus, allowing eels to swallow small prey almost immediately. Here I show that when eels struggle with large prey or fish held precariously, they commonly curl to bring their own tail to the opposite side of prey, sandwiching it between the two poles of their powerful electric organ."