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11 Quick Facts About Electric Eels

Last Reviewed and Updated on February 4, 2023

Electric eels are known throughout the world as animals that are both feared and admired. They are the most powerful bioelectricity generators in nature. They can shock you, and they can stun you. Read on and learn some of the most shocking and fun facts about electric eels.

About Electric Eels

Electric eels are a genus (Electrophorus) of fish in the Gymnotidae family. They are native to freshwaters in some parts of South America. They live in freshwater rivers and swamps.

There are three known species of electric eels;

  • Electrophorus electricus
  • Electrophorus varii
  • Electrophorus voltai

Electric eels have elongated bodies and are more cylindrical in the front and flattened at the back. Their skin is smooth, thick, and brown to black with a more yellow underbelly.

They feed primarily on fish and other aquatic animals.

Electric eels are oviparous and lay eggs.

Their conservation status is currently the least concern with stable populations.

Interesting Facts About Electric Eels

Ready to learn more about them? Here are some interesting facts about electric eels you just need to know.

1. Electric eels are not true eels

Their name suggests these fish are eels; however, they are not true eels. They are eel-like animals, meaning they just look like eels but aren’t closely related to them. Electric eels are more closely related to catfish.

2. They stun (or kill) their prey with electricity

Electric eels can both detect and hunt their prey with their electro-sensors. They have three electric organs, producing two types of discharges, one for electrolocation and one for stun.

When electric eels identify their prey, their brains send a signal to their electric organ to generate a discharge. This stuns (immobilizes) their prey and allows the eels to gobble it up.

While they stun their prey, they have been known to kill animals and even humans in self-defense.

3. They need to breathe air (fish link)

Electric eels get most of their oxygen by breathing air using buccal pumping (breathing with cheeks, pumping the air in). They don’t have lungs but have a buccal cavity lined with a mucous membrane where the gas exchange happens. They need to swim to the surface to breathe air.

This type of breathing also allows electric eels to live and thrive in waters that aren’t rich in oxygen.

They also have gills, but they are not the primary source of oxygen.

They aren’t the only fish that can breathe air; in fact, there is even a species of fish that has lungs. Do check our list of 50 fish facts and

4. Their butt is under their head

They have similar digestive tracts to most fish; however, there is one big difference. Their anal (uroanal) opening is located in the front of the animal at the end of their head and not at the back part of the animal (source).

5. Electric eels grow throughout their lives

They never stop growing; they grow for as long as they live. As they age and grow, more vertebrates are added to their spinal column. It is still unknown what their average lifespan is; however, some captive specimens lived for over 20 years.

6. They can survive on land for some hours

Electric eels can survive on land for a couple of hours if their skin is wet enough.

7. They have very poor eyesight

Their eyesight is poor, probably as an adaptation to their living conditions: they are nocturnal and live in the dark, murky waters. Instead of using their eyes, they use electric signals to navigate and hunt.

9. Male electric eels make nests

Males make nests using their saliva, and females deposit eggs inside the neats.

10. Electric eels inspired the invention of the first electric battery

There is no denying electric eels are fascinating, so it is no surprise they have been studied for centuries, from biological points of view to medical perspectives.

Fast forward a few studies, the research works done on electric eels by Williamson, Walsh, and Hunter influenced the thinking of Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta on electricity and electrochemistry, leading to the invention of the electric battery.

11. They don’t have scales

Their skin is smooth; there are no scales at all.

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