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Electric Eels Double Their Attack Voltage When They Curl

Electric Moray Eel

Electric eels can double the strength of the high-voltage pulses their electrical organ emits by curling around their prey, according to a new study.

In the study, which was led by Dr. Kenneth Catania with the Vanderbilt University Department of Biological Sciences, researchers investigated the electrical output of striking eels by inserting electrodes into prey items.

The researchers found that eels struggling with large fish or prey–prey that they are holding in a precarious fashion–tend to curl their tail towards the opposite side of their prey and in doing so, place their prey between the two poles of their powerful electrical organ.

According to the researchers, whose findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Current Biology, it is this curling behavior that is responsible for the doubling in field strength during the electrocution of prey.

The researchers noted in their reported findings that the curling behavior “most likely” ensures “reliable activation of the majority of prey motor neurons” and that it “at least doubles” the field strength.

Recordings from electrodes placed within prey items show that this curling behavior at least doubles the field strength within shocked prey, most likely ensuring reliable activation of the majority of prey motor neurons.

Video recordings offered further support for the team’s findings, as the recordings showed that eels struggling with prey that might otherwise escape could temporarily immobilize and manipulate their otherwise flight-worthy prey after executing a curl-amplified attack.

Even large eels were captured on video employing the curl tactic to stun subdue their otherwise resistant prey, such as crayfish.

By jerking at the electrodes attached to the prey, which caused the eel to continue its curled attack, the researchers observed the tactic being employed more during sustained struggles with prey.

In other news, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported earlier this year on the successful transmission of 1.8 kilowatts of wireless electrical power to a target located 55 meters way.

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