Despite their name and appearance, electric eels are not even a part of the eel family. They are actually more closely related to the catfish and carp family. These famous creatures get their name from the electrical shock they produce when stinging predators and prey.
The electric eel has a long slender body with a flattened head, much like a snake! Electric eels have thick skin usually a dark grey, brownish, or yellow-orange color. Electric eels have three major electric organs, the main electrical organ, the Hunter’s organ and the Sachs’ organ. These three organs make up eighty percent of the fish's body. The organs create either a strong or weak electric shock which helps them with hunting, defense, navigation, and communication. When the shock is rather strong, it can be exhausting for the fish.
Electric eels can grow to be as long as 6 to 8 feet.
Two dark grey electric eels
Electric eels live in the waters across northern South America. Their range spans across Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guianas, and Suriname. Electric eels live in quiet lakes, ponds, streams, and forests. These fish inhabit areas where waters are created and sustained by precipitation patterns, such as rain or snow. In these areas there are wet and dry seasons. These two seasons bring drastic changes in habitat availability for electric eels. During the wet season, the waters can overflow from rain, allowing pools of water to expand in size creating new territories. In dry seasons, large groups of electric eels become isolated into smaller groups in excess streams and pools.
Electric eels are able to communicate by using low electric organ discharges. The frequency at which weaker electric pulses are produced differs between males and females. Electric eels can recognize these signals from one another, allowing them to interpret information about other electric eels in the water. They can also convey details about each other's sexualities, which is extremely useful during the breeding season.
Electric eel in murky water
Electric eel in environment
Adult electric eels are usually carnivores and mostly eat fish, crustaceans, insects, and small vertebrates including reptiles and mammals. Besides defense, electric eels use their electric shocking power to hunt. They have motion-sensitive hairs along their bodies that can detect any pressure changes in their surrounding area. In dark waters, it is difficult to spot prey, so when they can sense prey is nearby, they emit two electrical currents, also called a doublet. Since doublets occur so quickly, it can be very hard for humans to observe the process in detail.
Reproduction and Development
During the dry season, female electric eels lay between 1,200 and 1,700 eggs. Males build nests for their young made of saliva, to protect them until the wet season begins. The average lifespan is still unknown for electric eels in the wild.