Research conducted at Vanderbilt University indicates that electric eels might not only use their electric capabilities to stun potential prey, but to find it in the first place.
While it's assumed that electric eels use their natural powers to kill fish and other small animals, it actually only stuns the organisms they source for food. However, due to the environments in which they thrive — like cloudy waters — it makes it difficult for eels to spot their hunting targets to begin with.
"Electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) are legendary for their ability to incapacitate fish, humans, and horses with hundreds of volts of electricity," wrote Kenneth C. Catania, a biological scientist at Vanderbilt University in a paper about his findings published in the journal Nature Communications.
"The function of this output as a weapon has been obvious for centuries but its potential role for electroreception has been overlooked," he stated.
Catania went on say that, from the results his experiments garnered, he could conclude that eels' use of electricity — as well as their "speed" and "accuracy" — to find their prey is reminiscent of bats using echolocation (aka "bat sonar") seek out insects to snack on.
"Eels exhibit 'sensory conflict' when mechanosensory and electrosensory cues are separated," continued Catania, the former alluding to physical reactions in response to mechanical distortions, and the latter to responses triggered by ampullary organs that can pick up on weak electromagnetic fields. Eels then "[strike] first toward mechanosensory cues and later toward conductors."
To prove his hypothesis, the scientist placed a brain-dead fish in a transparent, insulated packet in the same tank as a select number of eels, thereby preventing the fish from being shocked by their respective stunners. Catania observed that the eels were disoriented, and the insulated fish remained untouched. After that, he posited charged, metallic rods into the same tank; subsequently, instead of charging toward the concealed fish, they scrambled toward the rods.
Another experiment Catania administered utilized a spinning wheel with both non-conductive and conductive objects attached to it. As he theorized, the eels made a beeline toward the chargeable materials.
In short: the electromagnetic capabilities of eels have a dual purpose, which make eels a double threat to anything below them in the food chain.
Catania also took a series of videos to record his findings. Watch some of them below to see what the scientist observed.
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