A group of biologists at Vanderbilt University found that electric eels curl up to make their attacks twice as shocking. The study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, revealed that the predators supercharge their shocks to deal with their toughest prey.
Electric eels’ bodies are covered with special cells that can store electricity and release it at will when the animals are threatened or they need to find something to eat. Adult electric eels can generate up to 600 volts in a single zap, which is five times the voltage we use in our homes’ electrical systems.
But apparently they can boost the charge they hit their prey with not by increasing the energy output but by curling their bodies in a particular way. Researchers were amazed to learn how the eels tackle larger prey.
Scientists found that the animals first strike their prey to stun them and then they curl around their prey and immobilize it between their head and tail. This way, the prey is caught between the electric eels’ positive and negative poles. By altering the way currents travel through their prey’s body in the electrical field, eels are able to double the strength of their electric shocks.
Kenneth Catania, lead author of the study who was the first to notice the clever hunting strategy, has made other findings on the predators. Catania also found that electric eels use their shocks to detect hidden prey by attacking the animals’ nervous systems and making them to twitch out of their hiding places.
But the latest discovery is the most shocking of them all. Catania recently told reporters that the eels’ ingenious physics trick is so elaborated that one may say that the animals took a class in physics.
“That’s what’s beautiful about it,”
the researcher added.
The research team tested the hunting strategy under laboratory conditions. They attached dead fish stuffed with electrodes to a rod and fed it to hungry eels. The team noticed that the eels’ curling around the prey triggered electrical pulses that were so forceful and fast that produced continuous muscle contraction in prey.
But the contraction rate was so fast that it eventually led to total muscle fatigue and the prey couldn’t move anymore. Other predators have a similar effect on their victims but after using poison. For instance, venomous snake’s poison triggers a similar outcome on their prey’s neuromuscular system.
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