New study shows that electric eels use their electric shocks not only to paralyze their victims, but also to make them give themselves away when hiding in the murky waters of the Amazon or Orinoco River.
Dr Kenneth Catania, author of the study and professor of biological sciences at the Vanderbilt University, found out that electric eels produce and use their electricity to remotely activate their prey’s muscles making them to first exit their hiding places and next paralyze to devour them.
Adult electric eels have almost two-meter-long bodies that contain thousands of cells that get charged with electricity to later release it as electric shocks ranging from 400 to 600 volts. Eel’s hunting tactics were also shocking to Prof Catania, although he has seen pretty other shocking things during his lifetime such as tentacled snakes that make fish swim directly into their mouth or star-nosed moles that are able to smell underwater by blowing bubbles.
It seems that electric eels’ hunting scheme has 100 percent accuracy when dealing with creatures that have nerves and muscles. Dr Catania said he couldn’t see any defense against it.
Dr Catania says he discovered a lot of things while studying electric eels’ hunting techniques. First, eels combine their electric shock with a very rapid strike of the prey, they don’t just paralyze it and devour it later. Prof Catania also used a high-speed camera to film what happens when electric eels hunt. He found out that eels use a two-step method – first they launch a shower of rapid electric pulses (about 400 per second), and then, after the prey gets paralyzed, eels strike it (otherwise they can miss).
Then, Prof Catania also wanted to know more about how the high-voltage pulses were working. So, he used anesthetized fish to lure an electric eel to blast it with its electricity. It seems that the electric shocks force muscles to contract.
In order to find out if pulses were acting directly on muscles or on neurons that control muscles, Dr Catania injected the experimental fish with a special poison that numbs its neural system. As a result, when electrocuted, the fish didn’t move. So, the professor believes that electricity first acts upon the neurons.
The researcher also says that a human attacked by an electric eel would experience it as being shot with a taser or accidentally touch an electric fence at an animal farm.
Dr Catania also noticed that eels use a back-up hunting technique – after the electric shower they launch two more rapid pulses to freeze their victim as efficiently as possible. However, a previous study showed that eels also use high-voltage pulses to detect their prey when they are exploring for food.