Electric Eel

Electric Eel Facts
Size Up to 8 ft (2.5 m)
Speed Up to 5 mph (8 km/h)
Weight Up to 44 lb (20 kg)
Lifespan 15-22 years
Food Fish, amphibians
Predators -
Habitat South America
Order Gymnotiformes
Family Gymnotidae
Scientific name Electrophorus electricus
Characteristics Long body, can cause electric shocks
Is The Electric Eel Really An Eel?

Despite its name the electric eel is not an eel but rather a knifefish. It is called an eel because its body shape looks very similar to that species.

Are Electric Eels Dangerous?

The electric eel is able to produce electric shocks up to 600 volts and therefore is the most “electrical” fish in the world. This can be dangerous not only for its prey but also for human beings. Fortunately, the electric eel is not aggressive, and the electric shock hardly ever causes fatal accidents. But it can cause death from drowning even in shallow waters due to muscle cramps and cardiac as well as respiratory arrest.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

How Do Electric Eels Generate Electricity?

Electric eels have up to 6,000 electrocytes, which are modified, elongated, stacked muscle cells. If the electrical eel wants to generate a voltage, all 6,000 electrical cells are activated one after the other. Each one generates a low voltage. The total voltage increases with every activated cell and finally exceeds 600 volts. You need an electrical potential difference to generate an electric current. The positive pole is located on the head of the electrical eel and the negative pole at the end of its tail.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: kudla/Shutterstock

Automatic Fire: 150 Electric Shocks Per Hour

One current impulse generally lasts a few milliseconds only. Yet, the electric eel can be rather persistent: It can generate up to 150 current impulses per hour.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Why Do Electric Eels Need Electric Power?

Of course, electric eels do not need electricity to light up the murky waters of the Amazonas and the Orinoco with a light bulb. This would not be of much help, because the eel has rather bad eyesight. But still the eel uses the electrical signals to find its way. It regularly sends out electrical signals of about 10 volts to generate an electrical field. The field changes as soon as it is being passed by some prey. The prey does not notice this, but it sets the alarm bells ringing for the eel.

How Long Does An Electric Eel Live?

Male electric eels have reached ages between 10 and 15 years in captivity, female specimen have become between 12 and 22 years old.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Bigone/Shutterstock

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