Steve Baker writes that two new species of electric eels have been found in South America. One of them is even stronger than the original.
I’ve heard some terrible stories about what can go wrong when Electrophorus electricus are kept in aquariums. One that stands out to me is when a worker in an aquatics store was thrown across the room and through a rack of stock tanks on the other side. They were able to get away because it was a small piece, but that must have hurt, and the glass…
I don’t know if this is a true story or a made-up myth. But it makes sense coming from an animal that can give off up to 600 volts of electricity!
But as time goes on, things get bigger and stronger. Just look at “Mini” cars… Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus virii are two new species.
Yes, scientists have found two new types of electric eels in the Amazon rainforest. One of them is even bigger and stronger than the one we already know. This 250cm fish can shock with up to a huge 860 volts, making it, as far as we know, the most powerful living electrical source on the planet.
A team from the So Paulo Research Foundation found enough differences in DNA, shape, habitat, and electrical output — a first in taxonomy — to name not just one but two new species of Electrophorus. Adding two new species to the genus, which used to only have one.
Carl Linnaeus first wrote about E. electrophorus in 1766. He called it Gymnotus electricus, which put it in the same genus as G. carapo, which he had written about in 1758. The electric eel was put into the new, single-species genus Electrophorus by Theodore Gill in 1864.
It is thought that species diverged from a common ancestor around 7.1 million years ago, when E. varii appeared. E. electricus and E. voltai are younger species. They are thought to have split up around 3.6 million years ago, when the Paleo west-flowing Amazon changed direction and the current east-flowing Amazon separated the Brazil and Guiana shields.
Even though E. voltai gives off more than three times as many volts as a typical home plug socket, it gives off much less amperage. With only about 1 amp coming from the eel compared to 10–20 amps from a wall socket, they are not likely to hurt a healthy person.
The species name “voltai” was chosen to honor Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist who invented the electric battery (1799). Electrochemistry was made into a field of study because of his work and ideas.
From what we know so far, the fish that have been brought into the UK are actually E. varii.
Electrophorus varii is the second new species. It was named after Richard P. Varii, an American ichthyologist and zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution who died in 2016. Dr. Carlos David de Santana, who wrote the study and is a zoologist, said, “He was the foreign researcher who influenced and helped Brazilian students and researchers study fish in South America the most.”
- varii is different from the other two members of its genus because its head is a little bit deeper. Aside from that, it’s hard to tell them apart. The number of rays on the pectoral fin and the number of pores on the lateral line can be used to identify and find a fish. Both E. varii and E. voltai live in the lower parts of the main Amazon river, but their ranges don’t overlap anywhere else.
A group of 107 electric eels from different parts of the Greater Amazon, such as Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname, were studied.
It is thought that the places where different species live affect how strong their electric charges are. The stronger E. voltai lives in clear, less conductive waters in the highlands of the Brazilian shield, where a strong charge is needed to attack prey or defend against predators. E. electricus lives in the lowland waters of the Guiana shield, which have both low conductivity and high conductivity habitats. Most of the time, the water in the lowlands of the Amazon basin, where E. varii lives, has a higher conductivity.
This exciting find could lead to a lot more biological research in the Amazon. Dr. Santana said, “Even though people have changed the Amazon a lot in the last 50 years, we can still find big fish like the two new species of electric eels.”
He goes on to say that the research “shows that there are a huge number of species waiting to be found in the Amazon rainforest. Many of these species may hold cures for diseases or ideas for new technologies.”
In a press release, he says, “If after 250 years of scientific research you can find a new eight-foot-long fish, can you imagine what else there is to find in that area?”
More research will be done on the different kinds of Electrophorus, and scientists in general hope to find useful enzyme and bioelectric functions to study.