The stunning predator curls up its body to double shock value and paralyzes its prey.
The electric eel is one of the most remarkable predators on Earth.
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It is a known fact that eel temporarily paralyzes its prey by using electric shocks, but a new study reveals some more surprising details. The marine animal curls up its body like a sophisticated coil to double its voltage and then takes down its prey.
Eels apparently use this stunning trick to deal with larger, difficult prey such as a large crayfish. They don’t bother to use it on the prey that is small or not struggling too much.
“Historically, electric eels have been viewed as unsophisticated, primitive creatures that have a single play in their playbook: shocking their prey to death. But it turns out that they can manipulate their electric fields in an intricate fashion that gives them a number of remarkable abilities.” Kenneth Catania, Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University and the author of the study, explained.
Electric eels have specialized cells called electrolytes on the two third part of their body which discharges electric shocks like conventional batteries. The electric eel can produce a shock of at least 600 volts, five times higher than a standard wall socket.
To confirm this unique curling behavior, Catania repeatedly observed eel attacking its prey. He found that the pattern of curling up was same every time. By bringing its tail up and around, eel sandwiches its prey between the two poles of its electric organ and paralyzes it to death.
Electric eel just upgrades its zapping power according to the size of the prey. For a larger prey, eel first bits it. Then, it curls its tail around the body of its prey until it comes directly across its own body close to head. Then, eel greatly increases the rate of its high-voltage electrical pulses.
"Each of these pulses the eel gives off is activating the nervous system of the prey," said Catania. "The eel essentially has remote control over the prey's muscles and runs them to exhaustion, leaving the prey temporarily helpless."
Professor Catania also found that eel not only use pulses to stun its prey but also to track them in muddy waters.
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“This dual use of the high-voltage system as both a weapon and a sensory system indicates that the eels’ hunting behavior is far more sophisticated than we have thought.”