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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Species Fact Profile: Electric Eel (Electrophorus electricus)

Electric Eel

Electrophorus electricus (Linnaeus, 1766)

Range: Northeastern South America
Habitat: Rivers, Swamps
Diet: Fish, Aquatic Invertebrates
Social Grouping: Asocial
Reproduction: Breed during the dry season. Thousands of eggs spawned and deposited in a nest of saliva built by the male.  Males will defend the nest and the newly hatched fry.
Lifespan: 10-20 Years (Captivity).  Females live longer than males
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern

  • Long, snake-like body is up to 2.5 meters long and weighing up to 20 kilograms, with an elongated anal fun, but no caudal, dorsal, or pelvic fins.  The internal organs all occupy the first fifth of the body length.  The remainder of the body houses the electrical organs
  • Color ranges from gray to brown or black, with some patches of yellow on the underside
  • Generate weak electric discharges to allow them to detect foreign objects (they have poor eyesight), with more powerful charges generated for predation and defense.  Towards the head they generate a positive charge, negative towards the tail.  They are very sensitive to changes in the conductivity of the water.  Even very young individuals are able to generate a charge.  An eel can generate 860 volts and has been likened to the power of a stungun
  • The mouth of an electric eel is very sensitive due to the lack of maxilla teeth and the abundance of blood vessels for oxygen absorption.  Shocking prey is believed to protect the mouth by reducing thrashing
  • Despite being a fish, electric eels are dependent on surface air, obtaining about 80% of their oxygen by gulping air from the surface.  This allows them to survive in water with very little dissolved oxygen
  • Despite their name, electric eels are not actually eels - they are members of the knifefish family, which in turn are closely related to the catfish

Zookeeper's Journal: The main fame of the electric eel, of course, is it's electricity - the very trait that is responsible for both parts of the species Latin name and takes up 80% of the animal's body length.  The eels are most popular in zoo and aquarium displays which allow visitors to actually see the electrical power of the fish, often by powering a small electric device attached to the exhibit, such as a lightbulb.  At the Tennessee Aquarium, a specimen named Miguel Wattson actually powers its own Twitter feed by periodically charging a small computer attached to the tank.

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