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Enigma of an Eel

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  • Enigma of an Eel

    The Electric Eels, capable of sending out electrical discharges as high as 650 Volts, have fascinated humans for ages! The electric eel or “The Electrophorus Electricus” is not an eel at all! It is a rare species of the knife fish, with ability to produce stunning electrical impulses.

    The electric eels live in the muddy bottom of calm water bodies. They live in swamps, creeks, South American rivers and oceans too. Young electric eels feed on invertebrates, eggs and embryos. Adult electric eels feed on fish and small mammals.

    The electric eel has a long square body. Its head looks flattened and its square mouth is placed right at the tip of its snout. It had a dark, greenish grey body and a yellowish belly. It has no scales but its fins run down right to the tip of its tail.

    Electric eel can grow to a length of 2.5 meters and weigh 20 Kilo Grams. It has an exceptionally good hearing ability. Though a fish, it takes in 80% of the oxygen it needs directly from the air. It has respiratory organs in its oral cavity. It surfaces at the intervals of ten minutes, to gulp in as much air a possible.

    Electric eel has a “Power House” in its body, which takes up four fifths of it long body. All its vital organs are placed in the front one fifth of its body. The Power House of an electric eel consists of three sets of abdominal organs.

    Electrocytes are lined up in series in these organs. When current flows through them, it can produce an electrical discharge and deliver a shock! The electrocytes lined up, act similar to the stacked plates in a battery, to produce an electric charge. The 5000 to 6000 eletocytes, stacked neatly in electro plaques, can generate one ampere current at 500 to 650 volts (equivalent to 500 to 650 watts).

    Electric eel can produce two types of electric shocks–low voltages for hunting, finding a mate, communicating and in orientation. High voltage shocks are used in self-defense and for stunning it prey. The 650 Volt electrical discharges are harmful even to a fully grown adult human. When disturbed or agitated an electric eel can go on sending shock pulses for an hour or more.

    The eight foot long slimy creature, with a dull exterior and a funny face, may not appear dangerous to humans–the way a shiny coated cobra does. But appearances are deceptive! In reality, the slimy electric eel may be more dangerous than even a cobra.

    Visalakshi Ramani