Electric eel

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Electric Eel
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Superclass:Osteichthyes
Class:Actinopterygii
Order:Gymnotiformes
Family:Gymnotidae
Genus:Electrophorus
T. N. Gill, 1864
Species:E. electricus
Binomial name
Electrophorus electricus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
 
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For other meanings, see Electric eel (disambiguation).
Electric Eel
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Superclass:Osteichthyes
Class:Actinopterygii
Order:Gymnotiformes
Family:Gymnotidae
Genus:Electrophorus
T. N. Gill, 1864
Species:E. electricus
Binomial name
Electrophorus electricus
(Linnaeus, 1766)

The electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) is an electric fish, and the only species of the genus Electrophorus. It is capable of generating powerful electric shocks of up to 600 volts, which it uses for hunting and self-defense. It is an apex predator in its South American range. Despite its name it is not an eel but rather a knifefish.

Contents

Anatomy

Electric eels have an elongated, cylindrical body, typically growing to about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) in length, and 20 kilograms (44 lb) in weight, making them the largest species of the gymnotiformes.[1] The coloration is dark gray-brown on the back and yellow or orange on the belly. Mature males have a darker color on the belly. They have no scales. The mouth is square, and positioned at the end of the snout. The anal fin extends the length of the body to the tip of the tail. As in other ostariophysan fishes, the swim bladder has two chambers. The anterior chamber is connected to the inner ear by a series of small bones derived from neck vertebrae called the Weberian apparatus which greatly enhances their hearing capability. The posterior chamber extends along the whole length of the body and is used in buoyancy. Electrophorus has a well-developed sense of hearing. Electric eels have a vascularized respiratory organ in their oral cavity (Albert, 2001). These fish are obligate air-breathers; rising to the surface every 10 minutes or so, the animal will gulp air before returning to the bottom. Nearly 80% of the oxygen used by the fish is taken in this way.[2]

Despite its name, the electric eel is not closely related to true eels (Anguilliformes) but is a member of the Neotropical knifefishes (Gymnotiformes), more closely related to catfishes.

Physiology

Electric eel at the New England Aquarium.

The electric eel has three abdominal pairs of organs that produce electricity: the main organ, the Hunter's organ, and the Sach's organ. These organs make up four-fifths of its body, and are what give the electric eel the ability to generate two types of electric organ discharges (EODs): low voltage and high voltage. These organs are made of electrocytes, lined up so that the current flows through them and produces an electrical charge. When the eel locates its prey, the brain sends a signal through the nervous system to the electric cells. This opens the ion channel, allowing positively-charged sodium to flow through, reversing the charges momentarily. By causing a sudden difference in voltage, it generates a current. The electric eel generates its characteristic electrical pulse in a manner similar to a battery, in which stacked plates produce an electrical charge. In the electric eel, some 5,000 to 6,000 stacked electroplaques are capable of producing a shock at up to 500 volts and 1 ampere of current (500 watts). Such a shock could be deadly for an adult human. Electrocution death is due to current flow; with the level of current that can be fatal in humans depending on the path that the electric current takes through the human body, human heart fibrillation (which is reversible via a heart defibrillator) can take place from currents ranging from 70 to 700 mA and higher.

The Sach's organ is associated with electrolocation.[3] Inside the organ are many muscle-like cells, called electrocytes. Each cell can only produce 0.15 V, though working together the organ transmits a signal of about 10 V in amplitude at around 25 Hz. These signals are what is emitted by the main organ and Hunter's organ that can be emitted at rates of several hundred Hz.[3]

The electric eel is unique among the gymnotiformes in having large electric organs capable of producing lethal discharges that allows them to stun prey.[4] There are reports of this fish producing larger voltages, but the typical output is sufficient to stun or deter virtually any other animal. Juveniles produce smaller voltages (about 100 volts). Electric eels are capable of varying the intensity of the electrical discharge, using lower discharges for "hunting" and higher intensities for stunning prey, or defending themselves. When agitated, it is capable of producing these intermittent electrical shocks over a period of at least an hour without signs of tiring.

The species is of some interest to researchers, who make use of its acetylcholinesterase and ATP.[5][6]

The electric eel also possesses high-frequency-sensitive tuberous receptors patchily distributed over the body that seem useful for hunting other Gymnotiformes.[3]

Electric eels have been widely used as a model in the study of bioelectrogenesis.[7]

Bionics

Researchers at Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), applying modern engineering design tools to one of the basic units of life, argue that artificial cells could be built that not only replicate the electrical behavior of electric eel cells but in fact improve on them. Artificial versions of the eel's electricity generating cells could be developed as a power source for medical implants and other tiny devices.[8]

Ecology and life history

Habitat

Electric eels inhabit fresh waters of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, the basins in South America, in river floodplains, swamps, creeks and coastal plains. They often live on muddy bottoms in calm water and in stagnant rivers. [3]

Feeding ecology

Electric eels feed on invertebrates, although adult eels may also consume fish and small mammals. First-born hatchlings will eat other eggs and embryos from later batches.[3] The juveniles will eat invertebrates such as shrimp or crab.

Reproduction

The electric eel is known for its unusual breeding behavior. In the dry season, a male eel makes a nest from his saliva into which the female lays her eggs. As many as 3,000 young will hatch from the eggs in one nest. Male electric eels are much smaller than the female. [9][10]

In zoos and private collections

These fish have always been sought after by some animal collectors, but catching one is difficult, as the only option is usually to make the eels tire by continually discharging electricity. The fish's electric organs will eventually become completely discharged allowing the collector to wade into the water in comparative safety.[9]

Keeping electric eels in captivity is difficult and mostly limited to zoos and aquariums, although a few hobbyists have kept them as pets. An electric eel requires an aquarium of at least 200 gallons. It generally must be kept in the tank by itself, although adult electric eels generally tolerate one another. Young electric eels will often fight if placed in the same aquarium. Electric eels cannot be kept with any other fish as they will attack them.[citation needed]

Taxonomic history

The species is so unusual that it has been reclassified several times. Originally it was given its own family Electrophoridae, and then placed in a genus of Gymnotidae alongside Gymnotus.[4]

See also

References

  1. ^ Albert, J.S. (2001). "Species diversity and phylogenetic systematics of American knifefishes (Gymnotiformes, Teleostei)". Misc. Publ. (Mus. Zool. University of Michigan) (190): 1–127. hdl:2027.42/56433. 
  2. ^ Johansen, Kjell (1968). "Gas Exchange and Control of Breathing in the Electric Eel, Electrophorus electricus". Z. Vergl. Physiologie (Springer Berlin / Heidelberg) (Volume 61, Number 2 / June, 1968): 137–163. http://www.springerlink.com/content/v4gx677327634826/. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2005). "Electrophorus electricus" in FishBase. December 2005 version.
  4. ^ a b Nelson, Joseph, S. (2006). Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. ISBN 0-471-25031-7. 
  5. ^ Simon, Stéphanie; Massoulié, J (1997-12-26). "Cloning and Expression of Acetylcholinesterase from Electrophorus". Journal of Biological Chemistry 272 (52): 33045–33055. doi:10.1074/jbc.272.52.33045. PMID 9407087. http://www.jbc.org/cgi/content/full/272/52/33045. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  6. ^ Zimmermann, H; CR Denston (1976). "Adenosine triphosphate in cholinergic vesicles isolated from the electric organ of Electrophorus electricus". Brain Res. 111 (2): 365–76. doi:10.1016/0006-8993(76)90780-0. PMID 949609. 
  7. ^ Albert, J.S., H. H. Zakon, P. K. Stoddard, G. A. Unguez, S. K.S. Holmberg, M. R. Sussman (2008). "The case for sequencing the genome of the electric eel, Electrophorus electricus". J. Fish Biol. 72 (2): 331–354. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2007.01631.x. 
  8. ^ Xu, Jian, David A. Lavan (2008). "Designing artificial cells to harness the biological ion concentration gradient". Nature Nanotechnology 3 (11): 666–670. doi:10.1038/nnano.2008.274. PMC 2767210. PMID 18989332. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2767210/. 
  9. ^ a b Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  10. ^ Assunção MIS; Schwassmann HO (1995). "Reproduction and larval development of Electrophorus electricus on Marajó Island (Pará, Brazil)". Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 6 (2): 175–184. ISSN 0936-9902. 

External links