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Century-Old Myth Busted! Video Proves Electric Eels Can Jump Out Of Water For Deadlier Attacks

Jun 08, 2016 09:21 AM EDT

As far as anyone knew, electric eels don't jump out of the water. Well, almost everyone except for Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist and explorer who swore he had seen them rear out of the water back in his expedition in 1800.

According to The Atlantic, Humboldt used horses to catch the electric eels he came across with while traveling in South America. Once the horses were in the water, the eels jumped on the horses' stampeding legs, killing two of the 30 horses he sent down.

His account was met with disbelief because not everyone had actually seen electric eels do the jumping. But that now changes after Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania confirmed that the 200-year-old myth is true. Catania was so fascinated by the story that he tested the theory by observing the behavior of electric eels inside large tanks. In the study, he noted that electric eels execute certain behaviors when faced with threats. His study revealed that eels can actually leap up and electrocute an approaching predator. Moreover, the attack he calls the "shocking leap" behavior produces a higher voltage of up to 300 volts. In an interview with, he explained that in the process of leaping, the eels' chin is directly attached to the target, making the electric current travel through the target. The farther the eels can get out of the water, the more current they can send.

"This allows the eels to deliver shocks with a maximum amount of power to partially submerged land animals that invade their territory," Catania said. "It also allows them to electrify a much larger portion of the invader's body."

Catania took slow motion videos of the eels in action. Watch the video below.

"The results support Alexander von Humboldt's story of electric eels attacking horses that had been herded into a muddy pool during the dry season in 1800. The finding highlights sophisticated behaviors that have evolved in concert with the eel's powerful electrical organs," the study said.

The study was published online this week in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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