Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

The Poor Misunderstood Electric Eel

by Andre on 4 March 2005

In my last post I said that the first thing that came to mind when I thought of E+M in biology was the electric eel. The reason I chose to write about magnetic navigation instead is that my initial research on eels didn’t turn up much credible information. I thought that it would be difficult to find much sound physics on electric eels when I read this page that states that electric eels can produce currents of up to 650 V. Depending on your background (or perhaps your resistance) this may not shock you, but anyone that has taken some physics should know that current is not measured in volts. It’s a little bit like saying that something has a mass of 10 pounds: in simple situations, the two quantities (mass and weight; current and voltage) are proportional but that doesn’t mean that they are the same. Or maybe it does, but that’s another story.

You may be thinking that this post lacks substance, and you’re probably right, but this excellent page certainly doesn’t. It answered many of my questions directly without using much jargon. In fact, I didn’t really have anything to add after reading it. It also explains another way in which electric eels are misunderstood: they’re not eels, they’re fish!

Maria said…

andre. eels are fish. although I can appreciate your distinction. ‘true eels’ belong to the Order: Anguilliformes, where as electric eels belong to the order Gymnotiformes (electric knifefishes!!). This order has more than 60 species, and uses their electric organs for both navigation and detection and capture of prey items (this and much more from Moyle and Cech 2000) :) and that’s the extent of your ichthyology lesson for today. Cheers, m.

Andre said…

Thanks for the clarification Maria. This is the problem with a physicist exploring an interest in biology. I don’t know any biology! :^)



  1. mandy    3470 days ago    #

    I have to do a report on electric eels. Where is a go website to go to or is this a good on? HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  2. Andre    3468 days ago    #

    I would recommend starting here. If that doesn’t help, maybe try a link from this post, perhaps the one I referred to as excellent? YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  3. monica    3439 days ago    #

    mandy- welcome to the club. this report really stinks! :(!


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