Saturday, April 5, 2014
E is for Electric Eel
When I was little, I thought electric eels weren't real things, but something people just made up, like flying horses and cockapoos. But it turns out they really do exist, and they really kill their prey with electricity, and if you touch one, it'll zap you. They live in the Orinoco River Basin, which alongside Australia, must be one of the coolest places in the world, because that's where you'll also find piranha, fresh-water dolphins, and those army ants that can overrun your entire plantation like in that movie.
It's actually not an eel, but a knifefish, but that seems nit-picky because the main thing is, it's definitely electric. It's not like an electric-blue tetra that really is a tetra, but gets its name just for its color. Electric eel or electric knifefish, no matter how you slice it, is electric, but don't try slicing it because buzzz---zap!
The electric eel has three pairs of organs that produce electricity: one is Hunter's Organ, the other is Sach's Organ, and the third is just called the main organ. (You biologists out there, there's an entire organ waiting to be named after you.) Like I said, the eels have three sets of these organs, which take up most of the body, and can produce a current of up to 500 watts. The organs are modified nerve or muscle tissue, which conduct electro-chemical charges even in us, but electric eels take this to extremes.
Even so, the shock of an electric eel is not enough to kill a human, which I find strangely disappointing. The electric eel is that last of its genus. Its relatives, the knifefish, produce electric current for navigation and communication, but they're not as cool as the electric eel. Wikipedia, which is the source of all information, lists the electric eel's conservation status as "least concern." I'm not sure whether this means we have an ample population of electric eels or no one would be especially concerned if they died out.