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Highly Charged Eels

June 7, 2016

Acrobatic electric eels go to great lengths to repel threats.


Catania eel

An eel defends itself against a simulated threat. (Kevin Catania/PNAS)


Fish that pack a punch. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the early 1800s, German naturalist Alexander Humboldt visited South America and reported seeing electric eels attacking horses that entered their pools. Now, Vanderbilt neurobiologist Kenneth Catania reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on experiments that replicated the eels dramatic attacks using model animals.

KENNETH CATANIA (Vanderbilt University):

Electric eels would turn around from retreating to do this explosive attack, emerging from the water while giving off high voltage discharges and pressing their chin against the conductor, which would normally be an animal of some kind.


Catania says rearing up out of the water lets the eels transfer more current into their victims. The fish are not only fascinating, but understanding how they generate large currents could help in the design of self-powering artificial organs and medical devices. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.