The most electrically charged freshwater animal is lighting things up at the Vancouver Aquarium – literally. Meet the electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) of the Vancouver Aquarium, located in both the Amazon gallery and the Canaccord Financial Exploration Gallery.

The electric eel is like a swimming battery – its head is positive and its tail is negative. A large electric eel is capable of generating an electric shock of up to 600 volts; that’s five times the power of a standard wall unit! This electric output is used for hunting prey, defending itself from predators and communicating with other electric eels.

Electric eel display at the Vancouver Aquarium

Electric eels generate more electricity than a standard wall outlet.

Electric eels live in the murky waters of the flooded Amazon floor. Due to their relatively small eyes and the muddy waters they travel in, they can’t see well. Instead, they use their electric field to sense fruit and insects that fall into the flooded forests floor as well as other fish and small mammals.

To produce electricity, the electric eel uses specialized organs. These organs are made of electrocytes, (not to be confused with electrolytes) which produce electricity by lining up stacked plates. When an electric eel stuns its prey or communicates with other eels, its brain sends a signal through the nervous system which opens the ion channels, reversing the polarity momentarily. This sudden difference in electric potential generates an electric current in a manner similar to a battery.

To show off the eel’s electric capability, the exhibit in the Canaccord Financial Exploration Gallery has two metal rods that pick up the eel’s electrical discharge. The electrical discharges powers the switch that turns the overhead lanterns on, creating a display of flashing lights that shows off the electric power of this unique aquatic animal.

Visit the electric eel and see the newly expanded Aquarium spaces, including the New Guinea exhibit, Stanley Park’s Shores, the Teck Connections Gallery and a brand new Café. Looking for more information on shows and other features at the Aquarium? Stay updated by visiting us online, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week’s featured animal: The Pig-Nosed Turtle

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