The science of electric fish


Electric eels have got to be the most bizarre and freaky fish on the planet. We certainly wouldn’t like to swim into one on a dark night; we’d be in for a shock – quite literally. They can actually produce shocks strong enough to paralyze or incapacitate larger animals, and sometimes predators too. Imagine Pikachu if he was a fish, and didn’t have all that squeaky, yellowy cuteness!
But, did you ever wonder where eels get the ability and power to make these electric attacks? That’s a pretty formidable ability to have, and the biology of many fish is pretty remarkable. In order to understand creatures like electric eels, we must first understand how they are able to generate the power for these unique attacks. So, let’s learn a little more about the science behind electric fish.

It’s about the organs

Recent videos examining the biological makeup of electric fish determined that fish actually have at least one electric organ in their body from birth. And these organs are packed full of cells we call electrocytes. The way these cells work is that they naturally release ions that give a negative charge on the outside, and a positive one inside. But, they can send signals to these organs to create this effect on one side, and the reverse effect on the other, creating a charge, and making the organ similar to an electrical battery.

Charged up

When they are charged they are able to mount the electrical energy for a variety of things. We already know they can use it to shock and paralyze their prey, or predators. But, they are also able to use it to detect other fish, as well as disrupting nearby electrical signals as well. And, in the deep, dark, depths of the water, electricity can be a pretty nifty way of communicating as well. This is a pretty remarkable ability to have, and shows us yet another way in which evolution has proven to be unique and amazing.

Other creatures have this ability

Did you know that it’s not only fish who have this ability? Oh no, there are plenty of other creatures with the ability to use electricity to their benefit. And no, Pikachu is not one of them! Some spiders are able to use electricity by coating their webs in electrostatic glue. The pretty gnarly looking oriental hornet also has the ability to harness electricity. It absorbs energy from sunlight through its yellow stripe, which is thought to help supply it with energy for digging.

So, isn’t that fascinating that fish have specific organs that are actually able to be electrically charged?! This is actually something that’s more common than you might think – more than 300 species of fish have the capability to detect and produce electrical impulses. Electric eels have been using their electricity for years, and we are only recently finding out more about it. Different species of fish are able to use different amounts of electricity, but it’s unclear whether they can choose to generate and use more electricity if they wish to.