Electric eel, Electrophorus electricus (characteristics, distribution, feeding, reproduction, electric charges) – Video

This video was filmed in the Freshwater Aquarium, Sea World, California, USA (June 2012)

Review: Abdel Rahman El Gamal (Founder of the website and video channel)

Characteristics: Despite its name, electric eel is not true eel but more closely related to catfishes. They have elongated, cylindrical, non-scaled bodies, typically growing to about 2 meters in length, and 20 kilograms in weight. Male electric eels are also much smaller than the female electric eels. They can live from 10 to 22 years in captivity. Electric eels are obligate air-breathers and hence they rise to water surface every about 10 minutes to gulp air before returning to the bottom. As the name implies, the species is capable of generating electric shocks which it uses for different purposes. The coloration of electric eels helps them to blend in very well with their surroundings. Although they do not have very good vision, they enjoy a great sense of smell that they rely upon.

Distribution and habitats: Electric Eel is found in freshwater bodies in South America such as Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. They also live in locations that provide them with food supplies including river floodplains, swamps, creaks and coastal plains. They often live on muddy bottoms in calm water and in stagnant rivers.

Food habits: Adult electric eels feed on invertebrates, fish, and small mammals. The young of electric eels may develop cannibalistic behavior whenever their favorite food is not sufficient. In this situation, they may eat eggs, embryos or younger hatchlings. The juveniles of electric fish feed mostly on invertebrates such as shrimp or crab.

Reproductive behavior: The mating is prepared for by the male who create the mating nest from his salvia. The female will enter the nest where she lays about 1,200 – 3,000 eggs. Laid eggs are fertilized by the male’s sperm. Afterwards and because fertilized eggs are left unattended, they will experience high losses due to predation ending by low survivors which become adults.

Electric eels in captivity: Keeping electric eels in captivity is difficult and mostly limited to zoos and aquariums. Whenever intended to keep them as pets, special precautions must be secured. As expected, electric eels cannot be kept with any other fish.

Electric discharges: The electric eels produce powerful electric charges through special organs located in the tail. Electric charges produced by electric eels could be either low intensity (voltage) impulses or high intensity impulses. The low impulses are used for sensory perception and would make up the poor vision of electric eels especially in muddy waters. The high intensity charges can reach up to 500 volts or more. Such lethal charge is used during eel’s for stunning or killing eel’s prey but the charge is also used for self-defense. This high charge could be fatal to human. The electric charges emitted by electric eels is related to their size as smaller eels (about 10 cm in length) can produce charges of up to 100 V while eels with 1-m length or more can produce charges of 450 to 650 volts of electricity with 500 V as the most accepted value.

References: The Physics Factbook, Wild Facts, BioExpedition in Animals, Wikipedia, and Species poster, Freshwater aquarium, Sea World

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