Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.
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.
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.
The electric eel has unique organs in his body that has special cells called electrocytes. These cells work like small batteries and store power, which is used to produce the eel's namesake electric signal. The electricity-producing organs take up 80% of the electric eel's insides, and this leaves only 20% of space left for vital organs like the heart and lungs.
When they are hunting prey, they will discharge all of the electrocytes at the same time, and this can produce an electric charge much stronger than your electrical outlets in your house. This shock is around 600 volts, and it only takes 3 milliseconds for the eel to produce this shock and stun their prey. It takes an average of 200 milliseconds for a human to blink her eyes, so the eel can act very quickly to catch prey!
Electric eels are carnivorous fish that live in the murky freshwater river basins of the Orinioco and Amazon rivers in South America. They have poor eyesight and rely on electrical pulses produced by special cells called electrocytes found in unique organs in their bodies. When hunting prey or avoiding a predator, an electric eel can produce a jolt of electricity greater than 600 volts, which is higher than the average outlet in a U.S. home.
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