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Thu Jan 14, 2021, 07:44 PM

Electric eels can supercharge their attacks by working together [View all]

By Patrick Pester - Staff Writer 7 hours ago

Their shock can be 10 times more powerful as a group.

Stunning new video footage captures electric eels in the Amazon hunting in groups of more than 100. Deadly packs then splinter off to collectively deliver a supercharged jolt that blasts fish out of the water, a new study finds.

This is the first time such group hunting has been seen in Volta's electric eels (Electrophorus voltai), a type of knifefish already known for individually producing the strongest electric shock of any animal.

The video footage, which was described Jan. 14 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, was captured at a small lake on the banks of the Iriri River in Brazil. "It's really amazing to find a behavior like that with eels that are 2.4, 2.5 meters [around 8 feet] long," David de Santana, a zoologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and co-author of the new study, told Live Science.

Mammals routinely work together to catch prey, but such behavior is comparatively rare in fish, according to the new study. Prior to this discovery, scientists thought electric eels were solitary predators, usually attacking a single fish at a time.


Also posted in Science:

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Older article:

Shocking Find! Two New Electric Eel Species Discovered
Expeditions in remote Amazon waterways result in identification of two previously unknown electrified fish.

The highland regions of the Amazon are home to two species of electric eel -- Electrophorus electricus and E. voltai. A third species, E. varii, was found in lowland regions.

Media credits
C. David de Santana

Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Joshua Learn, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- After spending years trekking through Amazonian jungles to explore highland waterfalls and murky waterways researchers have discovered two new species of electric eels.

“The eels are quite eye-catching, they grow over eight feet long and they discharge,” said David de Santana, a zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the lead author of the study published today in Nature Communications.

You could say de Santana is in the shock value business. He has traveled through the Amazon jungle to the remote Javary River near the triple border of Colombia, Peru and Brazil, and also to the Coppename River in remote parts of Suriname in search of numerous animals, including electric eels, which despite the name are technically not eels but a type of knifefish.

“It was quite an adventure always to go to those remote places in South America,” he said.

The study was part of the Smithsonian's collaboration with the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Zoology looking to discover species of electric fish in South America. This effort has taken de Santana on expeditions all over the greater Amazon region, including parts of Brazil, Colombia, Suriname, French Guiana, and Ecuador gathering specimens, tissue samples and bits of genetic material found in the water, known as environmental DNA.


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Smithsonian Researchers Triple the Number of Electric Eel Species, Including One With Record-Setting Shock Ability

Electrophorus voltai, a newly discovered species of electric eel, pictured swimming in the Xingu River, a southern tributary of the Amazon. (L. Sousa)

By Lila Thulin
SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

Electric eels are hard to miss. They’re eight feet long, have to surface to breathe oxygen every ten minutes and produce electric shocks that are enough to kill prey and light up a Christmas tree. But in the more than 250 years since the electric eel was first described, scientists have missed something about the fish: There isn’t just one unique species of electric eel, but three. In a paper in Nature Communications, researchers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and other institutions describe two new species of electric eel, Electrophorus varii and Electrophorus voltai, tripling the known number of species. And one of the new species also boasts a record-setting shock ability of 860 volts, which makes E. voltai the world’s strongest known bioelectric generator.

The name “electric eel” is a misnomer, explains C. David de Santana, a zoologist with the Natural History Museum. The animals are actually eel-shaped knifefish; unlike proper eels, they dwell in freshwater, not salt water, and need oxygen to survive. Three electric organs make up 80 percent of their body and emit electric pulses that can be weak (to communicate and navigate) or forceful (to hunt or defend themselves).

Before this research, zoologists considered the electric eel’s habitat to cover a large portion of northern South America around the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. The size of that range stuck out as anomalous, says de Santana: “If you take the distribution of neotropical fishes, they’re really rare to have one unique species broadly distributed across the continent.” But the giant fish are hard to collect, and technology like DNA testing and 3-D CT scans are relatively recent innovations, so for centuries, scientific consensus held that there was only one species of electric eel, he says.

De Santana and his colleagues wanted to look more closely at the single known species of electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, and collected 107 specimens by going to South America and tracking down the fish. They asked local communities to help by identifying known habitats, and they used a “fish detector” made of a microphone cable and amplifier that picked up electric pulses in the water. They needed the fish alive to measure the voltage of their electric organ discharge and to get DNA samples. Once the fish were collected, the scientists sent tiny samples of the animals’ flesh to Washington, D.C., for genetic testing.


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