Electric eels are shocking creatures (pun intended), and a recent investigation has discovered even more fascinating facts about these marine animals. It turns out they are more potent when they leap out of the water to attack their predators.
Dr. Kenneth Catania, the author of the discovery, said he was inspired by an 1800 story written by Alexander von Humboldt. Fun fact: electric eels aren’t eel fish, despite their name. In fact, they belong to the knife fish family, found in large numbers in the tropic and South America.
The species is characterized by a long body which allows the electric eel to swim and move at ease around their environment. Knifefishes only swim in fresh waters and their preferred time to come out is at night.
Their electrical attack and defense is the thing they are most famous for. The pigmentation on the eel’s body is yellow on the belly and dark on the back, and it can grow up to 2 meters and weigh around 20 kg.
Thanks to the three pairs of organs in the eel’s abdomen, there’s electricity running through its body; the pairs are known as the central organ, the Hunter’s organ, and the Sach’s organ. Eels’ electricity comes in either low voltage discharges or high energy discharges.
Humans have long been fascinated by eels. Explorer Alexander von Humboldt actually wrote a story 200 years about an encounter between eel’s and horses, which was widely believed to be fiction.
Not anymore, because according to Dr. Kenneth Catania from the Vanderbilt University, it is, in fact, possible for electric eels to fight horses and win. At the end of his story, Humboldt described the horses had all passed out and drowned following the eel’s attack.
“I certainly thought it was a crazy story when I did consider it, but I don’t anymore. At this point I don’t think he exaggerated one bit,” Catania explained in an interview.
Jumping and discharging high voltage energy into their predators – which are much larger than them – is a common behavior for electric eels, because the electric discharges are used as protection. The jump is also easily explained, seeing that underwater their energy is not as high.