Let’s learn about electric eels

These fish can give a dangerously powerful jolt of electricity  

a photo of an electric eel

The electric eel isn’t an eel, but it is electric.

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When you come across an electric eel at a zoo or aquarium, the fish looks somewhat boring. It usually just sits quietly, waiting for a meal. But the electric eel’s quiet demeanor hides a great danger. These fish have special organs that generate an electrical pulse. If a threat appears or a tasty snack is nearby — zap! The electric eel discharges a pulse of electricity, stunning whatever is nearby.

Biologists used to think there was only one species of electric eel, Electrophorus electricus. But now we know that there are actually three species of these fish: E. electricus, E. voltai and E. varii. E. voltai sets the record for the biggest zap, reaching 860 volts in tests by scientists.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

The shocking electric eel! This creature’s powerful jolts not only act as a radar system but also can trick prey into revealing their location. (6/2/2016) Readability: 6.5

Leaping eels! Video shows how they attack with zaps: When a large predator threatens from above, an electric eel makes a shocking attack. (6/27/2016) Readability: 7

Newly discovered eel sets a jolting record for animal voltage: Scientists have found two new species, and one is quite a shocker. (11/15/2019) Readability: 7.4

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Analyze This: Electric eels’ zap is more powerful than a TASER

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Learn about the electric eel from Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Make your own electric circuit with paper, a pencil, a battery and an LED light bulb.

Sarah Zielinski is the Editor, Print at Science News Explores. She has degrees in biology and journalism and likes to write about ecology, plants and animals. She has three cats: Oscar, Saffir and Alani.

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