How Does an Electric Eel Produce Its Electricity?
Electric eels are not actually eels at all. They’re a specific kind of knife fish that lives mainly in bodies of fresh water in South America, such as the Amazon River. Electric eels are more closely related to catfish than true eels. True eels cannot produce electric shocks like electric eels can.
Electric eels have long bodies, up to six feet long shaped like a cylinder. Since they look a lot like true eels, they’ve been called electric eels since they were discovered.
Electric eels can weigh up to 45 pounds. Unlike many fish, electric eels breathe air. They regularly rise to the surface every 10 minutes or so to take a breath before heading back underwater.
Known by the scientific name Electrophorus electricus, the electric eel is an electric fish able to generate powerful electric shocks. Electric eels use their shocking abilities for hunting and self-defense.
Electric eels have three sets of internal organs that produce electricity. The organs are made up of special cells called “electrocytes.” Electric eels can create both low and high voltage charges with their electrocytes. Electric eels generate their electric shocks much like a battery.
An electric eel has many layers of battery like cells inside its body. A chemical in the eel’s body flows from its head to its tail through these cells and produces the electric current, the same as that in a car battery.
Electric eels have been known to produce as much as 600 volts of electricity. This amount is powerful enough to light a neon sign or stun a horse. Electric eels can vary the intensity of their shocks, using strong shocks when defending themselves, and weaker shocks when stunning fish for food.
Most of the time, electric eels produce lower voltage shocks just strong enough to stun prey or deter a threatening animal. When threatened, electric eels can produce intermittent electric shocks for at least an hour without showing any signs of getting tired. Special insulation in the eel’s body protects it from being harmed by its own electricity.