We already know that the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) is one of the few fishes capable of generating electricity. Until now it was also assumed that eels used such unusual ability to defend themselves or to hunt, but it was not known exactly how they used that power. But now, a study conducted by a group of scientists led by Kenneth Catania at Vanderbilt University in Nashville has revealed the refined and disturbing hunting techniques of electric eels.

An electric eel
An electric eel

It turns out that eels are not only capable of releasing up to 600-volt electrical shock to stun or even kill other fishes: they are also able to modulate their electricity in controlled discharges used to control the muscles of their prey against their will and lead them towards a certain death, so we can say that they manipulate their brain to make them act as if they were hypnotized by imitating the electrical impulses of their motor neurons.

The experiments began by analyzing the voltage and frequency of the electrical pulses that eels emit to hunt in their wild habitat. Apparently it seems that these predators emit their discharges at a frequency that interferes with the nervous systems of their prey when they are nearby, stimulating their motor neurons and causing involuntary movements.

This red light shows that it’s already using the electrical impulses
This red light shows that it’s already using the electrical impulses

One of the effects that they are able to achieve with these pulses is to make fishes in an area move with no control in any direction, ruining this way any chance of hiding from a predator. A second type of pulse causes the minnows with which the eel is fed move against their will in the direction in which the eel is found. The discovery allows to complete a hitherto unknown chapter in the life of eels, and also opens new ways of research in other species capable of emitting lower voltages whose usage could be pretty similar.

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