It seems impossible, but sometimes I just sort of forget that electric eels exist. You would think that, living in a world in which there are eels that just somehow fucken generate electricity, I would be thinking about eels basically all the time. But, no, days — sometimes even weeks — will pass before electric eels wriggle their way into my thoughts again. There are a lot of crazy-ass animals on this planet: flying squid, ancient sharks, semi-transparent frogs — but, for my money, you simply cannot beat a long, wet tube that can electrocute you.
Since the mid-1700s, the scientific community has understood there to be only one species of electric eel — Electrophorus electricus, first described by botanist Carl Linnaeus — but findings published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications suggest that, actually, there’s three of them, and one of them is waaay better at doing electric shocks than the others.
Researchers examined 107 different specimens and studied their genetic differences, with the end result being the subdivision of what was previously just Electrophorus electricus into Electrophorus electricus, Electrophorus voltai, and Electrophorus varii.
While the previously recorded record for voltage output from Electrophorus electricus was a mere 650 volts, researchers found that electric eels from the species Electrophorus voltai could produce a discharge of as much as 860 volts. I’m no electrical engineer, but that seems like heaps of volts.
Thanks to the low amperage, this wouldn’t be enough to kill you, but it’s still enough to make you feel it. This is absolutely terrible practice and I would never normally quote from Wikipedia, but I really, really need you to read this paragraph:
This level of current is reportedly enough to produce a brief and painful numbing shock likened to a stun gun discharge, which due to the voltage can be felt for some distance from the fish; this is a common risk for aquarium caretakers and biologists attempting to handle or examine electric eels.
Even better than that? The citation for the last sentence in that paragraph from a paper titled “Practical considerations in the handling and care of electric eels”, which was published in a journal called “the Journal of Experimental Zoology”. God, science is amazing.
Welcome to our scientific understanding of the world, you slippery electric bastard.Image: Getty Images / ullstein bild