The in­fa­mous elec­tric ‘eel’

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Freshwater -

Mention elec­tric fish, and most peo­ple will in­stantly think of the elec­tric eel, Elec­tropho­rus elec­tri­cus, from South Amer­ica’s Ama­zon and Orinoco basins. Rather than be­ing a true eel, it’s ac­tu­ally a species of knife­fish. Much of the elec­tric eel’s body is ded­i­cated to gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity, and it has three pairs of dis­tinct elec­tric or­gans, used to pro­duce ei­ther strong or weak dis­charges.

The Sachs’ or­gan and the pos­te­rior part of the Hunters’ or­gan (both in the tail) pro­duce weak EODS of less than one volt, which are dis­charged fre­quently as a nav­i­ga­tional and com­mu­ni­ca­tion aid.

The main or­gan and the an­te­rior part of the Hunters’ or­gan can pro­duce a short burst of elec­tric­ity up to 600V to stun or out­right kill prey, or in­ca­pac­i­tate preda­tors.while an elec­tric eel is un­likely to kill a hu­man, thanks to the very short dis­charge du­ra­tion (just two mil­lisec­onds), it would the­o­ret­i­cally be pos­si­ble if mul­ti­ple bursts were de­liv­ered.

E. elec­tri­cus is ac­tu­ally easy to care for in the right sys­tem. The species is adapt­able to a range of meaty foods and not par­tic­u­larly fussy re­gard­ing wa­ter qual­ity. How­ever, it can reach over 2m in length, so you need a very long tank with a huge vol­ume.

On that ba­sis, and due to the po­ten­tial dan­gers they pose, they are best re­served for pub­lic aquaria. Ju­ve­niles can be kept to­gether but larger, more dom­i­nant in­di­vid­u­als can be ag­gres­sive. Sim­ple main­te­nance can be dicey with elec­tric eels, and care ob­vi­ously needs to be taken not to touch the an­i­mals. At the Blue Planet Aquar­ium in Cheshire, we use 1000V elec­tri­cians’ gloves when ser­vic­ing our eels. That might sound OTT, but we’re not tak­ing any chances!

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