WATCH: Biologist Shocks His Arm With Electric Eel For Science

15 September 2017, 8:44 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
Watch electric eels leap from water to deliver strong shocks to potential predators
Kenneth Catania let his juvenile eel, Finless, electrocute his arm 10 times. If Finless had been a bigger adult eel, his electrocution power would've been more than that of a law enforcement Taser.  ( Vanderbilt University | YouTube )

A researcher wanted to see just how powerful electrical eels' electrocution power is when they're out of the water. In order to do so, he bit the bullet and let the eel shock his arms 10 times.

Leaping Electric Eels

What can you do in the name of science? Researcher Kenneth Catania from Vanderbilt University isn't afraid to go all the way for research. It all began a few years ago when Catania observed that the electric eels in the tank would leap out of the water every time he tried to fish them out using a fish net with a metal rim and handle. Each time, he noticed that the eels essentially attacked the metal bits by delivering pulses of electricity.

This gave Catania the idea that perhaps electric eels leap out of the water to attack land threats such as horses and humans, something he had proven in a paper he published last year. However, Catania wanted to follow up his previous research by documenting exactly how powerful these electrical shocks are.

The thing about electric eels is that the electric current released by eels in the water tends to dissipate in the surrounding area. However, the mystery remains when it comes to the actual voltage of electric current discharged by the eels when they leap and directly shock something that's out of the water.

All For Science

To gather data for the experiment, he created an apparatus that could measure the level of electricity flowing through his arm in an attack and allowed the eel he affectionately calls Finless to electrocute his arm 10 times.

What he found was that compared to shocks in the water, electrical shocks out of the water are more intense. In fact, he notes that the electric current delivered by Finless peaked at 40 to 50 milliamps (mA), a number that exceeds the thresholds for nociceptor activation in both horses and humans.

In each of the 10 times that he let Finless electrocute his arm, he experienced involuntary arm withdrawal. It's worth noting that Finless was merely a juvenile electric eel at 16 inches or just a little over 1 foot. Adult electric eels can grow up to 5 feet or even longer.

Because of his findings, it makes it easier to calculate reasonable estimates of how much electricity an eel of a certain size could deliver. According to Catania, it is likely that being shocked by a large electric eel would be more powerful than being shocked by a law enforcement-grade Taser.

His study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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