Science Articles

How Electric Eels Produce Electricity?

Electric eels are one of Nature’s most unique creatures with the ability to generate electricity from its own body.

How Electric Eels Produce Electricity?

Electric eels are one of Nature’s most unique creatures with the ability to generate electricity from its own body. This is interesting since it is a phenomenon that is rarely seen in the animal kingdom. Even though an Electric Eel is serpentine in physique and has a general appearance of an eel, it is not. It is a very common misconception but in reality, an electric eel is, in fact, an electric fish.

How does an electric eel generate electricity?

An electric eel has three main electricity-producing organs which cover almost all of its body and are composed of electrocytes which are mainly responsible for producing current. The eel generates electricity by momentarily reversing the polarity of these cells which creates a sudden voltage difference and hence generates a current. Now, an eel can produce electricity within a range of 5-10V to 500V. Perhaps you remember astonishing videos of eels lighting up Christmas lights? However, their voltage changes according to the purpose. For navigation purposes, the intensity of this current generated is low while for catching, stunning or killing prey the voltage is high. They also use these current impulses for communication purposes.

So how do they not shock themselves?

This is another most frequently asked question but the truth is there is only theory and conjecture at this point. No one really knows for sure, but there is one plausible theory that states that the duration, as well as the magnitude of a charge, accounts for the severity of it. An eel just doesn’t produce enough energy to shock itself. That is, the time for which the charge is produced is too little to have any kind of effect on the eel itself. Not only that, most of the energy is dissipated into the water surrounding it so it cannot affect any vital organs such as the central nervous system and the heart.

Why that electricity only has a use for the eel itself:

Now you may be thinking of the electric eel as a source of alternate energy by now. But that is impossible. Keeping ethical issues such as animal cruelty aside, it would be impossible to generate any sort of AC power for us to use. The electricity produced is DC in nature for one, and for another, it is discharged at a discontinuous rate and in any case the current is low. So you would need around 24 eels to produce enough electricity to power a house and even then they have to be discharging current at a constant rate. So their electricity is, sadly, of no use to us because it uses a lot of resources and is not cost-effective at all.

The eel is quite unique in its ability to be able to produce electricity without harming itself. So, let us be inspired by it and create our own source of energy in a similar manner, without harming it or its environment.