Shocking: Newly Discovered Eel Packs a Record-Setting Punch

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Electrophorus voltai, a newly discovered species of electric eel, pictured swimming in the Xingu River, a southern tributary of the Amazon. (L. Sousa)

Health Editor’s Note: For any of you live near or use waters where these guys live, this is a heads up!  Don’t want you to be electrified!…..Carol

Smithsonian Researchers Triple the Number of Electric Eel Species, Including One With Record-Setting Shock Ability

by Lila Thulin Smithsonian.com

Electric eels are hard to miss. They’re eight feet long, have to surface to breathe oxygen every ten minutes and produce electric shocks that are enough to kill prey and light up a Christmas tree. But in the more than 250 years since the electric eel was first described, scientists have missed something about the fish: There isn’t just one unique species of electric eel, but three. In a paper in Nature Communications, researchers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and other institutions describe two new species of electric eel, Electrophorus varii and Electrophorus voltai, tripling the known number of species. And one of the new species also boasts a record-setting shock ability of 860 volts, which makes E. voltai the world’s strongest known bioelectric generator.

The name “electric eel” is a misnomer, explains C. David de Santana, a zoologist with the Natural History Museum. The animals are actually eel-shaped knifefish; unlike proper eels, they dwell in freshwater, not salt water, and need oxygen to survive. Three electric organs make up 80 percent of their body and emit electric pulses that can be weak (to communicate and navigate) or forceful (to hunt or defend themselves).

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