New electric eel species packs 860-volt punch

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New electric eel species packs 860-volt punch

September 11, 2019 - 09:22
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Researchers recently unveiled two newly described species of electric eels. One of the new species can discharge as much as 860 volts, the largest electric charge of any known animal.

One of the newly described electric eel species, Electrophorus varii, in the Javari River.

A new study published in the Nature Communications journal reveals the classification of two new species of electric eels, one of which can emit an electric shock of 860 volts.

According to lead author Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US National Museum of Natural History, the two species are actually already in some museum collections and elsewhere.

In their research, from 2014 to 2017, the team correlated DNA, morphology and environmental data, and measured the discharged voltage of 107 eels. They found sufficient morphological, genetic, distribution and electrical-discharge differences to conclude that electric eels should be reclassified into different three species.

Before this finding, the only species of electric eel known to science was Electrophorus electricus, described by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1766.

Now, E. electricus is defined as the species found in the northernmost part of the Amazon region, in the highlands of the Guiana Shield in Brazil, Suriname and French Guiana.

One of the newly described species, Electrophorus voltai, can also be found in the highland areas, but south in the Brazilian Shield, as well as Rondônia and the north of Mato Grosso. This region has well-oxygenated waters and low amounts of dissolved salts.

Because the low amount of dissolved salts makes the waters less electrically conductive, the researchers believe that this is why the Electrophorus voltai can discharge up to 860 volts, the most powerful electrical charge of any known animal. (The other two species can discharge up to 680 volts.)

The other newly described species, Electrophorus varii, lives mostly in murky, slow-moving lowland waters with relatively little oxygen and sandy or muddy bottoms, and is more widely dispersed in South America.

The research team believes that there are more electric eel species yet to be discovered. “The interest in these fish goes beyond biodiversity,” said Dr de Santana.

“They could inspire new technology. They’re one of the few fish in the world that really carry magic.”

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