Electric Eels Supercharge An Attack Using Tricks – Can An Eel Kill A Human? [Video]

If electric eels supercharge their normal shock attack it turns out they can take down much larger prey while still using the same amount of energy. But is it possible for an electric eel to kill a human, or is just swimming cows who should be worried?

In a related report by the Inquisitr, a video proves that an electric eel can take on an alligator, but a researcher also found out how how the electric eels’ shock attack works. Kenneth Catania, a professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has been studying electric eels for years, and while eels do not directly electrocute their prey to death directly, their namesake ability essentially works like an organic Taser gun.

“It’s amazing. The eel can totally inactivate its prey in just three milliseconds. The fish are completely paralyzed,” Catania explained. “I have some friends in law enforcement, so I was familiar with how a Taser works. And I was struck by the similarity between the eel’s volley and a Taser discharge. A Taser delivers 19 high-voltage pulses per second while the electric eel produces 400 pulses per second.”

The researcher was able to run a test that confirmed that the electric eel’s discharges work by stunning the prey’s motor neurons, the nerves which control the muscles. Thus, to say that the electric eel can wield a supercharged Taser gun is no exaggeration.

“It’s the same way the Taser acts,” he said. “When someone gets Tased, they are not getting stunned by brain activity; their peripheral nervous system is being activated.”

Electric eel facts are crazy in many ways. Native to South American rivers, the fish actually have to surface in order to breathe, and technically they are not even eels – they are a member of the knife fish family. These fish are also mostly blind and use 10-volt electrical pulses to act like a sonar for navigation and tracking food.

“They have two modes,” Catani said, according to Discovery. “If they are hunting for hidden prey and don’t know where it is, they give out a little blip of the electricity just briefly, and the animal twitches. It’s a perfect way to cause the prey to reveal themselves.”

In fact, electric eels devote almost all of their body mass to their electric attacks. About 80 percent of their body contains 6,000 specialized cells called electrocytes which store power like tiny batteries. The remaining 20 percent, including vital organs, is packed into the front near the head. Using three special electricity-producing organs, the electric eel can generate more than 600 volts, which is five times the power of a standard U.S. wall socket.

The Electric Eels Supercharged Attack

One of the craziest eel facts is how they boost their basic ability using physics. Electric eels supercharge their attack by wrapping themselves around their prey in order to assume a magnet-like shape. When the eel curls its head closer to its tail, this trick greatly amplifies the electric field, increasing the damage done by the shock attack.

“When the eel curls its positive and negative poles together and sandwiches the prey in between, you get a focusing of the electric field,” Catania explained.

The researcher further explained that smaller electric eels supercharge their attacks more often in order to survive, but it is possible that larger eels can use this physics trick to take down much larger prey.

“There’s virtually no evidence of what electric eels actually eat. But these guys get really big, and they live in the Amazon, where there’s a huge diversity of potential prey,” said Catania.

Can An Electric Eel Kill A Human?

A fully grown electric eel can be up to eight feet long and weigh 44 pounds. According to National Geographic, human deaths from electric eels are very rare. Catania claims he cannot find records proving these human deaths occurred, but Animal Planet claims to have spoken to a doctor who witnessed such a case.

Catania believes the electric eels supercharge attack would likely be used on anything the creatures could fit into their mouth. Even a four-foot eel can be as big around as a full grown man’s leg, so an electric eel attack on a human is possible.

“You would have maximal muscle contractions, it completely immobilizes you,” Catania said. “The eel can catch you when normally you could escape.”

The researcher seems to think cattle and other large mammals may have more to be worried about when taking a dip in the waters of South America, but National Geographic claims that “people have been known to drown in shallow water after a stunning jolt.” If the electric eels supercharge their attack, it’s possible that multiple shocks could even cause your heart to fail or your respiratory system to shut down.

[Image via Near Tecnologico]

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