Vanderbilt Researcher Proves Shocking Legend About Electric Eels

Electric Eels. They’re nasty looking, snake-esque creatures that live in the water, can grow up to two meters in length and can deliver an electric shock equivalent to that of a Taser. That right there should be enough to scare Indiana Jones, but researchers have just confirmed an old myth that makes those slimy buggers even more creepy.

You don’t even need to be in the damn water for them to come at you, bro.

Over 200 years ago, the  famous Prussian naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt made the first scientific exploration to Latin America. Naturally, he endured quite a few hardships and numerous difficulties during his journey, and in one encounter, dated March 19, 1800, he described how the locals caught electric eels in an odd fashion. Von Humboldt wrote that he observed the natives leading horses into the river, where the eels would leap out of the water and shock the unsuspecting animals.

In the centuries that followed his description, which soon became legend, no one else had recorded this behavior… until now.

“The first time I read von Humboldt’s tale, I thought it was completely bizarre,” explains Kenneth Catania, who described the leaping eels’ behavior in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Why would the eels attack the horses instead of swimming away?”

The easy answer is “because eels are jerks,” but that’s not exactly scientific. The description that Catania published came to him by accident. While studying eels at Vanderbilt University, and trying to catch them using a metal-rimmed net for their tank in the lab, Catania managed to corroborate van Humboldt’s original accounts through sheer luck. He noticed that the eels would occasionally leap from the water and press their “chins” against the net whilst simultaneously producing those high-voltage pulses.

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Catania then measured the power of those shocks and was able to determine that electric eels use different shocking patterns when leaping out of the water than those used to stun prey. He also found that they’ll only jump from the water to attack living animals that are partially submerged, and were more inclined to do so when in less water. Yep, it’s a defense mechanism to protect themselves from land-based predators.

There’s gotta be a Pokemon move named after this.

[IFL Science]

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