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Electric Eel

Electric Eel Facts

Size Up to 8 ft (2.5 m)
Speed Up to 5 mph (8 km/h)
Weight Up to 44 lb (20 kg)
Lifespan 15-22 years
Food Fish, amphibians
Predators -
Habitat South America
Order Gymnotiformes
Family Gymnotidae
Scientific name Electrophorus electricus
Characteristics Long body, can cause electric shocks

Main Characteristics

Electric eels are predatory fish with a cylindrical (= cylindrical) body. They grow between 40 and 98 inch (100 and 250 cm) long and weigh up to 44 lb (20 kg). Their back is gray-brown and their abdomen is often tinged with yellow or orange. The special characteristic of electric eels is that they can generate electric shocks and in this way stun prey. It lives in the Amazonas.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities

How Strong Is the Current Generated By an Electric Eel?

Until recently, it was assumed that electric eels “only” manage 550 to 650 volts. But the electric eel Electrophorus voltai can generate up to 860 volts. This is the strongest electrical discharge an animal on this earth is capable of and it makes the electric eel the most "electric" fish in the world.


150 Electric Impulses Per Hour

One current impulse generally lasts a few milliseconds only. Yet, the electric eel can be rather persistent: It can generate up to 150 current impulses per hour.

Why Do Electric Eels Need Electricity?

Of course, electric eels do not need electricity to light up the murky waters with a light bulb. This wouldn't be of much help anyway, because the eel has rather bad eyesight. But still the eel uses the electrical signals to see. It regularly sends out electrical signals of about 10 volts to generate an electrical field. The field changes as soon as it is being passed by some prey. The prey doesn't notice the field, but it sets the alarm bells ringing for the eel.

How Do Electric Eels Generate Voltage?

Electric eels have up to 6,000 electrocytes, which are modified, elongated, stacked muscle cells. If the electrical eel wants to generate a voltage, all 6,000 electrical cells are activated one after the other. Each one generates a low voltage. The total voltage increases with every activated cell and finally exceeds 600 volts. You need an electrical potential difference to generate an electric current. The positive pole is located on the head of the electrical eel and the negative pole at the end of its tail.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: kudla/Shutterstock


Are Electric Eels Dangerous?

The electric eel is able to produce electric shocks up to 600 volts and therefore is the most “electrical” fish in the world. This can be dangerous not only for its prey but also for human beings. Fortunately, the electric eel is not aggressive, and the electric shock hardly ever causes fatal accidents. But it can cause death from drowning even in shallow waters due to muscle cramps and cardiac as well as respiratory arrest.



Is The Electric Eel Really an Eel?

Despite its name the electric eel is not an eel but rather a knifefish. It is called an eel because its body shape looks very similar to that species.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Life Style

Is the Electric Eel a Loner or a Group Animal?

In 2021, researchers found that the electric eel, Electrophorus voltai, hunts in groups. This is very unusual, because electric eels actually are solitary animals. The species forms groups of up to ten animals and hunt together for small prey fish. If they discharge simultaneously, they can theoretically build up 8,600 volts.

Life Expectancy

How Long Do Electric Eels Live?

Male electric eels have reached ages between 10 and 15 years in captivity, female specimen have become between 12 and 22 years old.

Electric Eel Electric Eel - Photo: Bigone/Shutterstock


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