The electric eel, a fish native to South America that can generate powerful electric shocks of up to 650 volts, has been found to have a special taser-like electroshock system that helps it exert a type of remote control over its prey.
According to a new study, the electric eel is capable of using high-voltage electrical discharges on its victims, causing them to twitch, thus exposing their location and incapacitating them. Scientists found that the eel delivers a high-frequency volley of high-voltage pulses about 10 milliseconds to 15 milliseconds before striking its prey, completely immobilizing it within three to four milliseconds.
“It’s amazing. The eel can totally inactivate its prey in just three milliseconds. The fish are completely paralyzed,” Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement. “And I was struck by the similarity between the eel’s volley and a Taser discharge. A Taser delivers 19 high-voltage pulses per second while the electric eel produces 400 pulses per second.”
As part of the study, published in the Dec. 5 issue of the journal Science, the scientists recorded three different types of electrical discharges from the eels -- low-voltage pulses for sensing their environment, short sequences of two or three high-voltage millisecond pulses produced while hunting and volleys of high-voltage, high-frequency pulses when capturing prey. Eels also use the third electrical discharge to defend themselves from attacks.
According to scientists, the eel’s electrical discharges can cause the muscles to contract in the same way a taser does. Further analysis also helped the scientists determine that the eel’s discharges can affect the prey’s nerves that control the muscles. The whole-body muscle contraction causes the prey’s body to twitch, creating water movements that the eel can sense. According to scientists, the eel can use these signals to locate hidden prey.
“If you take a step back and think about it, what the eel can do is extremely remarkable,” said Catania. “It can use its electrical system to take remote control of its prey’s body. If a fish is hiding nearby, the eel can force it to twitch, giving away its location, and if the eel is ready to capture a fish, it can paralyze its muscles so it can’t escape.”