Are Electric Eels a Useful Source of Power?

Miguel Wattson is an ideal seasonal employee. Not only does he work for free, but he also supplies his own holiday cheer.

Electric eels can produce shocks of up to 800 volts.
Electric eels can produce shocks of up to 800 volts.

You see, Miguel is an electric eel who resides at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. During the holiday season, Miguel's naturally-occurring electric shocks help to power strings of lights on the Christmas tree just outside his tank.

Sensors in Miguel's tank detect when he is seeking food or is otherwise excited, and the lights on the tree respond by growing brighter. The bigger the shock, the brighter the lights flash. There's also a soundboard that alerts aquarium visitors when Miguel is putting out some power. Although his low-level electrical discharge is only about 10 volts, Miguel's shocks can reach 800 volts when he is particularly excited, especially when he's been fed.

Th electric eel is such a popular attraction that aquarium staff even set up a Twitter account for Miguel, which has been designed to automatically post exclamations like "SHAZAM!" anytime Miguel generates a high-level shock. While the aquarium loves the attention, it really hopes that Miguel's hard work will ultimately pay off for him and other eels by teaching onlookers that the sometimes feared and reviled electric eel is actually a very special creature.

An education on electric eels:

  • The front 20 percent of an electric eel holds all of its vital organs, while the remaining 80 percent contains 6,000 specialized power storage cells known as electrocytes.

  • Electric eels can grow to 8 feet (2.4 m) in length and weigh over 40 pounds (18 kg).

  • Although electric eels stay underwater much of the time, they come up for air and sometimes even leap into the air to attack prey.

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