Electric Eel Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Faster than you can blink your eyes, an electric eel can produce a shock great enough to stun and eat fish! This lesson will teach you shocking facts about electric eels including where they live and how they are able to shock their prey.

What is an Electric Eel?

Imagine having an organ in your body that produces an electric shock large enough to shock and stun an animal as large as a horse! Electric eels have long, snake-like bodies that can grow up to 44 pounds in weight and 8 feet in length. That's longer than an average-sized couch in your home!

Even though they are called eels, they are actually closely related to bottom-dwelling fish like the carp and the catfish, and they live between 12 and 22 years.

Electric eels are actually fish rather than eels.
Electric Eel

Where do Electric Eels live?

Electric eels live in the murky freshwaters of northern South America in the river basins of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. You can find them living along the muddy bottom of slow moving or calm waters including marshes, swamps, creeks, or small rivers. They are nocturnal, meaning they hunt at night. Like us, electric eels breathe air, so they come to the surface frequently to breathe.

How do Electric Eels Shock their Prey?

If you were an electric eel, you would find that you have a hard time seeing in the murky waters in which you live. Electric eels have poor eyesight, and they rely on other senses to find food, which includes other fish since the eel is a carnivore (meat eater). In fact, they use electrical pulses made by their body as their eyes. This allows them to scan their surroundings and search or food, like fish, and predators, including the caiman.

Electric eels produce a very weak electrical signal that they use like radar. This allows them to find food and mates in their dark, murky habitat. When they find food to eat, like smaller fish, they produce a much stronger electric shock that stuns the fish they want to eat. Their ability to create a shock helps them keep predators away, too.

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