Updated: Jul 30
Have you ever seen electric eels in aquariums before? As the name implies, these electric eels get their name by their shocking ability to produce and release electricity. Their scientific name is Electrophorus electricus and they often grow 6 to 8 feet long and weigh around 44 pounds.
Although these creatures have an amazing ability to stun their prey and keep predators at bay, they’re not very aggressive animals due to their lack of vision. Like many sea creatures, they use sound waves to help them navigate, also known as echolocation. However these electric eels also have a different sense they use to produce electricity. Electric signals are used to help them navigate and sense danger.
How does electric eels produce electricity?
Electric eels have 3 different abdominal organs that work together to produce electricity. Due to these 3 abdominal organs, electric eels can produce around 600 volts of electricity. Electric eels aren't the only sea creatures that can produce electricity, though they produce some of the highest voltage. Electric stingrays can produce around 220 volts and electric catfish around 450 volts. These electric creatures have a battery-like array of cells known as electrocytes, where positive and negative energy combine together to produce electricity in around 80% of the eel's metre-long body.
For more information on how electric eels produce electricity, feel free to watch this video:
Are electric eels true eels?
Looking at their appearance and name, you may think these creatures are real eels but scientists agree that these creatures are knifefish, not eels. Although it may seem hard to believe, they are members of the Gymnotiformes order and are closely related to carp or catfish. Unlike true eels who mostly live in saltwater, electric eels are found in fresh waters in South America.
Electric eels have a slender, snake-like body with flattened heads. Similar to true eels appearance, they are thick, scaleless, and generally dark skinned. Furthermore, electric eels lack pelvic fins like regular fish or eels to help them balance and prevent rolling from side to side. Instead, electric eels have an elongated anal fin that helps them maneuver through the water. This fin helps them swim forward, backward, or hover as it searches for prey. Due to electric eels' dark gray or brownish black dorsal (top) side, and yellow or orange ventral (bottom) side, they are able to camouflage in logs, sands, and rocks to catch their prey.
Unlike true eels, electric eels live only in freshwater habitats. They are often found in murky ponds and streams in the Amazon River of Northern South America. Electric eels are nocturnal, meaning they live in muddy waters which are often dark. Similar to creatures that live in dark caves, they have poor eyesight and use electric signals like a radar to navigate, mate, and find prey.
Since electric eels live in the Amazon river, they are very adaptable. During the rainy season, the water level rises and rivers swell, re-connecting lakes and ponds as the forests flood. This allows electric eels to disperse and expand into new territories. While in the dry season, some electric eels travel before the water levels decrease. Some large groups of electric eels become isolated in the pools or smaller streams they are in and manage to survive.