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Episode 114 – Electric Eel: The Electric Puppet Master

“And today we’re talking about an electric water type Pokémon. But more on that later.”

If there’s anything we learned as kids, it’s stop drop and roll, don’t do drugs, and never mix electricity with water. But a certain stunning slippery serpentine creature didn’t get the memo. If you go swimming with the electric eel, you might find the results to be shocking. But when you’re a living battery, you just have to go where the current takes you here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • The electric eel has a long cylindrical body. 
    • Unlike the popular moray eel which has more of a long fish shaped body.
  • Their bodies are typically dark grey to brown with lighter orange or yellow bellies. 
  • Their bodies are smooth and scaleless. 
  • They have one long anal fin that extends the length of their body. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro this week from one of our good friends Laura!

Length

  • 2 m (6 ft 7 in)
  • How many eels go into the breadth of the Orinoco River at the height of the rainy season?
  • Hint: At the river’s mouth it branches off into a vast delta made up of hundreds of rivers that snake through swamps and forests.
  • 11,000 eels. The river can get up to 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide.

Weight

  • 20 kg (44 lb) 
  • How many eels go into the weight of the eDumper, the largest electric vehicle in the world.
  • Hint: The eDumper was converted from a diesel consuming dump truck that can move 65 tons of mined rock. The eDumper transports rock downhill and generates electricity through breaking. Since the bulk of its work is downhill and it travels uphill empty, it often generates more energy than it loses. 
  • 2,045 eels. The eDumper weighs 45 tons.

Fast Facts

  • Electric eels are technically related to knife fish, which it shares an order with. 
    • True eels are in the order Anguilliformes
  • They have a two-chamber swim bladder that’s connected to their inner ear.
    • The connecting bones are called a Weberian apparatus and enhance hearing.
    • If this sounds familiar, we talked about it with the Wels catfish.
  • The eels is a buccal pumper, which means it breathes by taking air into it’s highly vascularized cheeks. 
    • If that sounds familiar, we talked about it with the Bullseye snakehead.
    • 80 percent of the eels oxygen is obtained this way and they must rise to the surface to breath every ten minutes, even though they have gills.

Major Fact: It’s Electric!

  • It’s not called the electric eel for nothing. It stands as one of the few animals that has bioelectrogenesis, or being able to generate electricity in a way that affects its surroundings. (We all generate electricity to some degree)
  • Almost it’s entire body is made up of organs that produce electricity
    • Main Organ
    • Hunter’s Organ
    • Sach’s Organ
  • Brace yourself for PHYSICS!!
  • It uses these organs to generate one of two kinds of charges: low voltage and high voltage
    • Voltage is resistance, like the pressure in your faucet
    • Amps measure the amount of electricity flowing through a given point in one second (speed of the current).
    • Watts are amps x volts
    • Imagine you have a hose that is spewing water. The amount of water coming out is the amps. Putting your thumb over the end of the hose is like increasing the voltage. What happens is that the power of the water (or watts) increases. 
    • So if you wanted to wash a dead bug off your car with a hose, you would either need to have a lot of water coming through (more amps), or you would need to add resistance (or pressure) to the water you do have by putting your thumb over the opening (more volts), making the water come out with more power (watts).
    • So if a taser has 10,000 volts 1 amp, you’ll get a 10,000-watt shock.
    • But if it has 100 volts, you’ll only get a 100-watt shock.
    • So Sparky can control the power of its shocks just by changing the voltage
  • It regularly uses low voltage currents to sense the world around it, but it uses high voltage currents to attack and defend itself.
    • The max output is 1 amp and 860 volts, or 860 watts, which is about the strength of the average stun gun. That’ll definitely hurt you and kill most fish or other prey.
    • Remember: even if a taser says it has 10,000 volts, if it has 0.01 amps, you’re only getting a 10-watt shock.
    • Getting a static shock on your doorknob sometimes gets up to 20,000 volts, but the amps are so low that it’s not dangerous.
  • The main, Hunters, and Sachs organs are lined with electrolytes
  • When an eel is threatened or sees prey nearby, it’s brain signals these organs to send sodium flowing through. Because sodium is a positively-charged ion, meaning that it has a positive charge, this temporarily reverses the polarity of the electrolytes.
  • This generates an Electrically charged field…of dreams
    • Not-so-sweet dreams for the prey though
  • Sparky can actually use this produced current to control the nervous systems of their prey, preventing them from escaping or forcing them to move out into the open to be eaten.
    • In an article called “Electric Eels Concentrate Their Electric Field to Induce Involuntary Fatigue in Struggling Prey”, they found that electric eels trap prey between positive and negative poles, using repeated 1 millisecond high-voltage volleys to force the muscles to contract and relax, fatiguing prey.
      • Because the body is divided into the Main organ in the center of the body, the Hunter’s organ along the belly, and the Sach’s organ in the tail, Sparky can have one end generate a positive charge with another end generating a negative one. If they curl up while doing this, he can concentrate his fields and trap prey.
    • For humans, it creates a pretty painful and numbing shock.

So for you out there in podcastia, keep a good electric field going, remember your volts and watts, and for goodness sake make sure that your ions are polarized correctly

After the Fact

Scientists are hoping to replicate the eel’s electric producing cells as a potential power source. Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers want to create artificial cells that produce electricity in this way. 

Hey everyone, Carlos here. I don’t want to get all zappy about this, but we really appreciate you getting amped up about our show and sparking creativity in all our hearts. However, we’re shockingly low on measure up intros. If this current trend keeps up, we’ll have to resort to having weird animal cries open the segment, and that’s no way to conduct our show! So we charge you to bolt to your phones and say, sing, or crackle the words “measure up” before wiring it over to ldtaxonomy@gmail.com. You’ll be rewarded with a somewatt stunning surge of thunderous applause! Ok that’s all the electricity puns I have, so thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!