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Newly-discovered electric eel is the most shocking yet

Published Sep 11th, 2019 2:25PM EDT
electric eel
Image: Gerard Lacz/Shutterstock

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Of all the creatures you could encounter while taking a dip in the Amazon rainforest, coming into contact with an electric eel would likely be one of the more painful meetings. They don’t have a reputation for starting trouble with humans, but if threatened they have the ability to send a serious shock coursing through the body of whatever gets too close.

Now, a newly-discovered species, Electrophorus voltai, has shattered records, producing a far more powerful jolt than any other eel ever studied. But what’s even more shocking than the eel itself is the fact that this species has remained undiscovered for so long.

The Amazon rainforest is a big place, and it’s also a favorite of scientists. There are many undiscovered species that call the rainforest home, sure, but this brand new eel species isn’t exactly built for hiding. As researchers explain in a new paper published in Nature Communications, the creatures can grow up to eight feet long, making them relatively easy to spot once you know where to look.

That said, its size isn’t the only thing that makes this fish special; its ability to generate a huge amount of bioelectricity is unmatched by any other species on Earth. The previously well-known species of electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, can produce up to 650 volts, but that pales in comparison to the 860 volts generated by voltai.

The animals use their unique ability for defense as well as hunting. The shock can stun prey to make them easier to catch, and if frightened it can be enough to send potential predators reeling, allowing for an easy escape.

“The discovery of new electric eel species in Amazonia, one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, is suggestive of the vast amount of species that remain to be discovered in nature,” Carlos David de Santana, first author of the study, said. Furthermore, the region is of great interest to other scientific fields, such as medicine and biotechnology, reinforcing the need to protect and conserve it, and is important for studies involving partnerships among Brazilian researchers, and between us and groups in other countries, to explore the region’s biodiversity.”