How do electric eels generate electricity and use it in their lives


I am woefully ignorant on the subject and it was brought up at work.. if I can get a down and dirty explanation of this fish magic to help me understand this absolutely amazing thing I can rest my mind for the day…

Any further explanation of how they use it for hunting and defense would also be appreciated

In: 2

Well generally every animal creates electricity in their cells. We use it to transmit nerve signals for example to control muscles. That is possible by electrochemistry, certain molecules can donate electrons to others (just like batteries work, only that the energy is supplied by food)

Electrical eels have special cells that are isolated against each other in a certain direction but not in the other, building huge stacks of cell layers that are able to add up all these tiny cellular voltages. Those organs (called Electroplax) are basically a repurposed ring of muscles. It’s kind of a serial connection of millions of very small batteries that only release their charge on command.

They use that electricity to stun their prey, their brain gives a signal that would usually contract a muscle in our bodies, but for them the cascade of cells doesn’t really contract, the chemical energy in their cells gets all converted to electricity.

The eels also use those electric organs for communication and orientation as they can use them to feel electrical fields as well (many fish can do that by the way)

An electric eel’s electricity generation process works the same way as a battery, in fact they were probably the inspiration for the design of the first battery, 200 years ago!

Basically, they have a bunch of specialised cells called “electrocytes.”

Every cell can generate a tiny amount of electricity, by moving positive ions (of stuff like calcium or sodium) outside the cell. So you have a more “positive” area outside the cell and the inside of the cell is more “negative.” This is normal for most cells.

What makes electric eels special is that they have evolved in such a way, that these cells can be stacked together, and their nervous system can control the firing of the electric charge across those stacks. Every stack of thousands of these cells is like a battery, that can generate a voltage of up to 600 volts.

As you can imagine, this is pretty advantageous for your average medium-sized fish to have, in a habitat full of predators and prey. To be able to zap your prey so it won’t struggle while you eat it, or to zap your predator so they’ll die if they try to eat you, is a rather convenient thing.