Tags: electric | eels | supercharge | curl | prey

Electric Eels 'Supercharge' Their Shocks by Curling Up: Study

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By    |   Friday, 30 Oct 2015 11:07 AM

An electric eel can supercharge its ability to stun prey with an electrical discharge by putting its head and tail together, a new study shows.

Eels' ability to emit electric impulses through water has been studied for years, but it has always been something of a mystery exactly how the mechanism works, according to Vanderbilt's Kenneth Catania, a professor of biological sciences who has been studying electric eels for years.

"Historically, electric eels have been viewed as unsophisticated, primitive creatures that have a single play in their playbook: shocking their prey to death," Catania said on the Vanderbilt website. "But it turns out that they can manipulate their electric fields in an intricate fashion that gives them a number of remarkable abilities."

Catania's latest study, published in the journal "Current Biology" this week, discovered that eels can supercharge their electrical output by curling around their prey. The eels produce three different kinds of electrical discharges, the study said: "Low-voltage pulses for sensing their environment; short sequences of two or three millisecond, high-voltage pulses given off while hunting; and volleys of high-voltage, high-frequency pulses when the eel is capturing prey or defending itself."

By shocking prey, eels grab what Vanderbilt calls "remote control" of the prey's muscles.

"I don’t know of any other animal that can literally take control of the body of another animal like this,” Catania said.

Catania also determined eels use zaps of electricity to determine where their fast-moving prey are in the water, using the electric discharges almost like a radar system.

With bigger, more difficult-to-capture prey, the eel will bite and then curl around it, bringing its head and tail close together.

"When the eel curls its positive and negative poles together and sandwiches the prey in between, you get a focusing of the electric field," Catania told LiveScience.

Although it may seem as if the eel is supercharging its abilities, it actually just focuses the charges on one part of the prey's body, which makes the impact seem more powerful, Catania told the science website.



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An electric eel can supercharge its ability to stun prey with an electrical discharge by putting its head and tail together, a new study shows.
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2015-07-30
Friday, 30 Oct 2015 11:07 AM
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