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Shocking Eel Strategies

April 7, 2017

Electric eels use a series of elaborate electrical discharges to get their prey to come out of hiding.



Shockingly sophisticated eels. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Electric eels produce 600 volts of electricity to help them catch their prey. And according to Vanderbilt biologist Kenneth Catania, they don’t just electrocute whatever is nearby. In the journal Science, Catania describes how the eels vary their electrical discharges, using this pattern to get hidden prey items to reveal themselves.

[Eel sounds]

KENNETH CATANIA (Vanderbilt University):

They essentially give off these doublets, and if something is hidden, it will twitch, and that will give away the prey’s position, and that is followed up immediately with the high voltage volley that inactivates the prey and allows the eel to catch and eat the prey item.


A series of experiments showed that eel discharges are optimized to trigger nerve impulses in their prey. Why the voltage doesn’t affect the eels themselves remains a mystery. Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.