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How Much Electricity Can an Electric Eel Generate?

The world is growing ever more dependent on electricity as a source of power -- consumption more than tripled between 1980 and 2013 -- but we're not the only ones dealing with high voltages. Enter the electric eel. In what was described as a (pun-intended) shocking discovery, biologists in South America recently learned that there's not just one species of electric eel, but three, including one that produces as much as 860 volts of electricity -- or about seven times the voltage offered by standard outlets in the United States. Electrophorus voltai, the largest of the three electric eels at an average length of 5.6 feet (1.7 m), is now considered the world's largest and most powerful biogenerator of electric power. The Smithsonian Institution's David de Santana, who studies the genetics, geographical reach and morphology of electric eel specimens found in the South American region, said that while E. voltai might not be capable of killing a human, it could give you quite a jolt. "It’s like the effect of a law enforcement Taser," he said.

Examining the electric eel:

  • Electric eels are actually more closely related to catfish than to other eels.
  • Electric eels have poor eyesight and must produce an electric charge to see in their environment and capture prey.
  • While a single electric eel charge won't kill a person, several can cause heart failure, and some victims have drowned after being shocked.
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