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Predators and Eels: Electric Eels Can Zing With Twice the Electricity

Oct 28, 2015 04:04 PM EDT
Electric eel in mid-curl
Electric eels are remarkable predators, say researchers with a new study that observed that these creatures can double their electric charge by a simple but sophisticated move.
(Photo : Kenneth Catania)

Forget about bears, sharks, boa constrictors: Predator power is all about e-lec-tricity. Or rather, a recent study by Vanderbilt University researcher Kenneth Catania shows that eels are a sophisticated predator, able to throw twice the shock into their prey by doubling up their own smooth, slim forms. They're the swimmers that are also like Tasers.

In the study, Catania looked at how eels place prey between the two poles of the organ that transmits their electricity. By doing this, they can take care of both large and wriggling prey or prey that is barely kept in their grip, such as crayfish, according to a release.

First, the study recorded several video images of eels engaged in curling and transmitting their shocks. Then Catania added electrodes to a dead fish, gave it to eels, and shook the fish's form to simulate a vigorous will to live. The electrodes measured that the eels' curling motion at that point, after taking the prey, sent out at least double the usual shock. The study further learned that such a heavy shock would create intense muscle fatigue and end the ability of the prey to contract itself and flee, said the release.

"Each of these pulses the eel gives off is activating the nervous system of the prey," Catania said in a release. "The eel essentially has remote control over the prey's muscles and runs them to exhaustion, leaving the prey temporarily helpless."

After this, Catania wants to learn how eels contrive not to shock themselves, even though they put their heads between the two poles of electricity as well.

"I'm personally amazed at this animal," said Catania in the release. "Historically, they've been considered very unsophisticated, primitive creatures that shock their prey. To see them manipulate their electric field and do these more intricate things is really amazing."

The findings were recently published in the journal Cell.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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