Scientists from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, found that young eels curl their bodies into a horseshoe shape around their prey to double the voltage of their shock.
A report – published in the journal Current biology – stated that the eels switch between the two poles of their bodies right before striking their prey. Even larger fish cannot escape the powerful shock, and remain immobilised for the young eels to feast on.
“In my mind, it’s sort of a testament to how even an animal that’s been studied for centuries may be doing amazing things that we were unaware of [until] we look closely,” Kenneth C. Catania, a biology professor at Vanderbilt University and leader of the study, said.
Eels’ bodies have electric organs that contain thousands of power-storing cells which act like minuscule batteries. These animals usually strike their prey with a 600 volt shock – which is five times higher than the power of a wall socket in the United States.
The power of the shock leaves the prey immobilised for a little while. In the meantime, the eels get the swallow the prey quickly before it can regain its senses and flee the scene, according to the scientists.
The bodies of younger eels produce a lot less power. In the Amazon – where they live – there is an abundance of fish of different shapes and sizes, some of which have spines, as well as other features to protect themselves. Younger eels have to either adapt, or starve to death.
To find out how young eels deal with larger prey, scientists at Vanderbilt University decided to conduct an experiment. They put electrodes inside brain-dead goldfish that were meant to measure shock voltage. Then, they placed the goldfish and the eels in the same aquarium.
They found that in order to amplify their shock value, the eels curled their bodies bringing their positive electrical pole closer to their negative electrical pole. With double their initial electric strengths, the young eels then shocked their prey numerous times.
According to Catania, scientists are unsure how the eels are able to protect their own muscles, brains and nervous systems form getting shocked.
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