Electric Eels: A Biological Battery

There is more than meets the eye with these incredible creatures of the deep!

Animals
Electric Eels: A Biological Battery
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Animals

Electric eels are shockingly unique creatures, but did you know their electric ability is more than just defense against predators? Let's take a deep dive into the biological batteries of the sea!

It's Electric!

Electric eels use their shock for a variety of reasons. Since these animals live in dark, murky waters and have very poor eyesight, they often rely on emitting various levels of electricity. In doing so, electric eels create a “radar” to communicate with each other, locate waters, warn off predators, and catch prey .

The vital organs of electric eels take up only one-fifth of their body, located right behind their head. The rest of their body is mostly made up of three special organs: the main organ, the Hunter’s organ, and the Sachs organ. These organs contain special muscle cells known as electrocytes.

electric eel

Electrocyte cells are flat and disk-shaped, stacked in about 70 columns on each side of the eel's body. When the eel wants to shock, a signal is sent through its nervous system, causing a build-up of positively charged sodium ions in the cells. This creates electricity, making the cells act like tiny batteries with positive and negative sides!

Each cell produces a small amount of voltage, but when many cells discharge at once, the eel can produce a shock of up to 650 volts!

Aiding Humans?

Electric eels are helping scientists study new medical applications. Because electric eels can synchronize thousands of electrocytes to produce high voltages very quickly, scientists hope to mimic the eel’s ability to use its own bodily fluids to keep the electrocytes charged. This could help power implanted devices using the body’s own energy.

pacemaker

While there is still lots of research being done to apply this technology to practical use, the hope is that we can replicate the electric eel’s biological battery well enough to power things like pacemakers, implantable sensors, or prosthetics.

How You Can Help Keep Eels Around

These amazing creatures allow us to explore artificial cell technology innovation and are also an integral part of their habitats in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. While electric eels have a status of “least concern” in terms of endangerment, it is important that we work to preserve their homes. The Amazon holds about 1 in 10 known species on Earth and comprises 1.6 billion acres of forest. Holding about half the world’s remaining tropical forests and 20% of the world’s fresh water. These forests absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide, which works to slow down climate change globally.

We can all help by doing our part to reduce plastic use. Small efforts such as buying locally sourced products or taking public transit when possible, help to lessen our carbon footprints!

Still Wanting More?

Looking to see an electric eel up close and in person? Visit Ripley's Aquarium of Canada and dive into adventure!

About The Author

Julia Nalywaiko, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada Educator

Julia Nalywaiko, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada Educator

My name is Julia, and I am an Educator at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. I have always had a passion f…

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