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Electric eels, one of the most dangerous fish


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DESPITE the name, it is not an eel, but rather a knife fish, and is more closely related to catfish and carp than to other eel families.

They have long, narrow bodies with long dorsal and anal fins. A full-grown electric eel (1.5 m to 2m) can generate about 600 volts of electricity. They live in water but have to surface every 10 minutes for air – they get 80 percent of their oxygen from the air they gulp when surfacing.

These eels are carnivorous fish and use their electricity for both protec­tion and for stunning prey, which are mostly crustaceans and small fish. All of an electric eel’s vital organs are crammed into the front 20 percent of its body. The rest or 80 percent is packed with about 6,000 specialized cells storing power like tiny batteries. When threatened or attacking prey, these cells will discharge simultane­ously. They’re mostly blind and use a radar-like system of electrical pulses to navigate and find food. It is only found in muddy, shallow waters sur­rounding the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America.

Alexander von Humboldt’s contro­versial 200-year-old account of electric eels leaping out of Amazonian water aggressively to shock horses was proved by Ken Catania of Vanderbilt University in 2016. The answer, ac­cording to Catania, is that the eels felt cornered and threatened. And he, not only validated the original account but found evidence that leaping eels, out of water, are more terrifying. When an eel is submerged, the power of its electrical pulses is distributed through­out the water, freezing its target into a state of shock. Out of water, the high voltage electrical salvo zaps a target directly through the skin near the eel’s chin, intensifying the effect.