Shocking Science of Electric Eels

Following on from my discussion on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire about the scientist electrocuting himself with electric eels I got to interview the man himself for the Naked Scientists…

In the 1800s, whilst exploring the Amazon, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt documented an attack on a horse by an electric eel, which allegedly leapt out of the water to stun the animal… Yet despite being studied for over 200 years since, this – and the video on YouTube below – were the only documented claims of this behaviour, until, that is, Vanderbilt University’s Ken Catania got his hands on an electric eel. Literally…

  • Electric eels use their shock to freeze-up animals for predation
  • Ken discovered the leaping behaviour when an eel jumped out of the water to attack the net that he was holding
  • He wanted to measure all of the variables in the electric circuit formed by the eel and its prey
  • To do this he used himself as bait and allowed the eel to shock his arm so that he could measure the current and resistance
  • The small eel he was working with gave off 200 volts but larger ones could reach up to 500 – the equivalent of 20 tasers
  • The current of 40-50 milliamps flowing through his arm was sufficiently painful to cause an involuntary reflex action to remove his arm

You can listen to the full interview here.




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