Electric Eels "Remote Control" Other Fish

The electric eel can create its own electricity measuring up to 600 volts. However, these predators aren’t simply sending this many volts coursing through the water simply because they feel like it. According to National Geographic, the electric eel can use their specialised cells to create electricity and remotely control their prey’s movements. Few researchers have ever taken the time to study the electric eel’s predatory methods, which is why this news is only being revealed now. Vanderbilt University’s Kenneth Catania decided to look at how electric eels catch their prey, and he found that they have a way of getting their prey to both “reveal themselves” and “freeze”, making them a formidable predator.

“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve encountered in studying animals, and I’ve seen a lot of unusual things” says Catania.  

“I thought they might lazily shock their prey and then deal with it afterwards, but they combine the shock with a really rapid strike,” he says. He filmed with a high speed camera and noticed that when the eels approached their prey, they released an intense volley of high voltage pulses. It’s these pulses that completely freeze the prey, and then the eel strikes.

Catania found that the pulses that the eel sends out act upon the neurons that control the fish’s muscles, and that preceding the volley of intense pulses, the eel lets out a quick pair of pulses. The eel produces this doublet even when there is no prey in sight, because these pulses trigger muscle contractions, which would reveal any hiding fish. Many fish can produce electric fields, including the elephantfishes of Africa and South American knifefish, but none of them are as strong as the electric eel (actually a type of knifefish), the electric catfish and the torpedo ray. The electric eel is the most powerful, but Catania suspects that they use the same hunting technique.