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Discovery Magazine 7/1/2001

A Shocking Experience!

Have you ever touched one of your friends and felt a small shock? Well, think about how life would be if your best friend were an electric eel! Electric eels aren’t true eels, but rather electrical fish that can reach lengths of almost 8 feet and can weigh up to 60 pounds! But these are no lightweights; they can pack an electrical punch 5 times greater than the shock that you would get from sticking your finger into an electrical socket! These special fish are found in rivers in South America. Known as Electrophorus electricus, the electric eel is olive brown with yellow spots and has a long, slender, snakelike shape. The internal organs for electric eels are all packed into about the front 1/8th of the body. These shocking creatures are air-breathing fish, which means they occasionally must rise to the surface and take gulps of air. Most electric eels live to be 12 years old or more.

The electricity from these amazing creatures arises from a group of highly compacted nerve endings found all along the body of the eel. Each one of these nerve endings has a small electric voltage that, when added together, can be a shocking experience! This would be similar to a row of batteries connected in a series. Electric eels use this electrical current to stun their prey. Dinner for an electric eel is mainly small fish. They also use this electricity for self-defense, for navigation, and to detect prey. Their ability to detect electrical signals even allows them to sense the heartbeat of other fish! A full-grown eel can produce enough electricity—600 volts—to stun a human or horse! While electric eels are not aggressive, they may produce a damaging shock when surprised or stepped on (and they don’t make good pets)! A single discharge would not be enough to kill a person, however, repeated shocks could be fatal. So why don’t these eels shock themselves? It is similar to the way electricity from your wall socket can shock you but not affect the material connected to the socket. Electric eels have a thick layer of fat that acts as an insulator to protect them from their own (or other) electrical bursts. All of this intelligent and complex design shows us just how smart God was when He created these special creatures!



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