The discovery of a new species of electric eel has shocked scientists — literally.
At least that is the case for Carlos David de Santana, a research associate at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who helped identify the most powerful electric eel around.
Over the past few years, de Santana has suffered several shocks while studying electric eels.
The highest-voltage attack he sustained measured close to 400 volts, but still nowhere near the 860 volts that can be discharged by the newly identified Electrophorus voltai, The New York Times noted.
The electric eel is one of two new species discovered in the Amazon basin and is believed to be capable of generating a greater electrical discharge than any other known animal, according to a report published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
This shatters what scientists previously knew about electric eels. Until now it was thought that they belonged to a single species but now researchers know that electric eels belong to three different species that evolved from a shared ancestor millions of years ago.
"They’re really conspicuous," de Santana said in a statement. "If you can discover a new eight-foot-long fish after 250 years of scientific exploration, can you imagine what remains to be discovered in that region?"
The discovery was the result of a collaboration of researchers from around the world who embarked upon an exploration of the diversity of the eels and other electric fishes in South America.
The team believe that E. voltai and Electrophorus varii, the second newly identified species, diverged around 3.6 million years ago, around the time that the Amazon River changed course.
E. voltai lived in the clear waters of the ancient highlands while E. varii lived in the lowlands. Their environments may be key in explaining the difference between the electric eels and the voltage of shocks they can deliver.
The discovery has far reaching implications, de Santana said.
"The interest in these fish goes beyond biodiversity," he said, according to the Times. "They could inspire new technology. They’re one of the few fish in the world that really carry magic."
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