Electric Eels Leap Out Of The Water To Attack Intruders

Posted: Jun 7 2016, 1:07am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Electric Eels Leap out of the Water to Attack Intruders
Credit: Kenneth Catania / Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania confirms observation made by legendary explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

Legendary explorer Alexander von Humboldt observed on March 19 of 1800 electric eels attacking horses in the Amazon. Over 200 years later, Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania finally was able to confirm Humboldt's story.

Catania accidentally discovered that, under certain conditions, the electric eels that he has been studying will react even more dramatically than von Humboldt described: When cornered by a threatening object that is partially submerged, they will often attack by raising up out of the water, pressing their chin against the object’s side and administering a series of powerful electrical shocks.

"The first time I read von Humboldt’s tale, I thought it was completely bizarre," said Catania. “Why would the eels attack the horses instead of swimming away?”

The biologist observes electric eels in large tanks. Initially, he used a net with metal rim and handle to transfer the eels from one place to another. “In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best design to use with electric eels,” he acknowledged.

However this choice led to the discovery. When scooping up the larger eels he found that every so often, an eel would stop trying to evade the net and attack it by leaping out of the water while pressing its chin to the handle, all the while generating a series of high-voltage pulses.

Catania designed a series of experiments specifically to determine what is happening with this newly described “shocking leap” behavior.

When the eel is fully submerged, the power of its electrical pulses is distributed throughout the water. When the eel’s body extends out of the water, however, the path that the electrical current travels goes from its chin directly into the target. Then the electric current travels through the target until it can exit back into the water where it travels back to the eel’s tail, completing the circuit.

“This allow 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.”

How on earth the electric eels found out that their special skill is much more effective outside the water is an evolutionary mystery.

Kenneth Catania's “Leaping eels electrify threats supporting von Humboldt’s account of a battle with horses” got published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Manfred "Luigi" Lugmayr () is the founding Chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 25 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets, tech and online shopping. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology news and tech and toy shopping hub.
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