When you hear the term ‘electric fish,’ the first thing that probably comes to mind is the infamous electric eel. It’s an aquatic animal capable of stunning nearby threats with a powerful electric shock so that it can make a sly getaway. But as it turns out, the electric eel isn’t the only fish capable of producing electric fields; there are quite literally hundreds of examples.
Electric fish can be categorized into two different sections, with the first being weakly electric, and the second being strongly electric. Just as the names of each category suggest, weakly electric fish don’t produce that much electricity, and mostly use it as a means of communication or navigation whereas strongly electric fish produce a lot of electricity that can be used to harm potential threats and hunt for prey.
The vast majority of electric fish reside in the weakly electric fish group, and they take advantage of specialized electric organs to produce up to a volt of electricity. That electricity gets sent to disk-shaped cells calls electrocytes, which can store and invoke the electricity as needed depending on the signals they receive from the animal’s brain.
Only a handful of electric fish reside in the strongly electric fish group, and they have dedicated electric organs in various parts of their body. The electric eel, one of the best-known examples, is the strongest of all known electric fish, and can produce up to 600 volts of power that moves several meters in every direction to stun prey and ward off potential threats.
As interesting as electric fish are, there’s one question that scientists still ask themselves today, and that’s, ‘why don’t electric fish shock themselves when they generate electricity underwater?’ Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to that question backed with scientific evidence, but it’s something we’ll continue to ask as their incredible behavior continues to fascinate us.