A zap from an electric eel acts like a natural Taser. It gives the creature the power to stop prey in its tracks. This gives the eel the upper hand — er, fin — that allows it to prevent dinner from swimming away. And that zap acts directly on the prey’s nervous system, scientists now show.
But that’s not all. This species (Electrophorus electricus) can release different types of electric discharges, the new study finds. The eels, which hunt at night, sometimes send out just two or three short pulses. These cause nearby fish to twitch against their will. The eels detect those involuntary movements — which shows them where their dinner had been hiding.
The new finding, he says, “elevates the eel’s strategy from a simple, reflexive stun-and-strike behavior to a more deliberative process.” (Deliberate, as a verb, means “to consider carefully.”)
Better understanding of those zappers
Researchers have long been fascinated by the electric eel. This species can release bursts of electricity measuring up to 600 volts. That’s enough to stop a fish cold in about three thousandths of a second. However, little research has been done on the details of how the eel’s body reacts to that electricity.