High voltage! New electric eel species is most powerful yet

Electrophorus voltai is one shockingly dangerous fish!
electric eel Electric eels are one of nature's most intense freshwater predators. And they just got even more intense... (Catalina Zaharescu Tiensuu - Dreamstime.com)

When it comes to the predators of the Amazon River, piranhas get most of the press. But electric eels? Let's just say that they're shockingly underrated.

These smooth customers aren't just single-style attackers. They first use softer charges to locate potential prey —like an electric field radar system (because all living things generate some electricity). Then when the moment is right, they up the voltage and powerfully stun their unsuspecting prey.

It's a deadly superpower, followed by a swift gobble by the eel of the paralyzed victim. And thanks to new research in the Amazon, the voltage just got upped even more.


Electrophorus voltai, the most powerful biogenerator of electricity in the world. (L. Sousa)

This is Electrophorus voltai, the newest species of electric eel to be discovered. Its top voltage is 860 V (volts, which measures units of electricity). This is a stunning 210 V more powerful than the volts of your average electric eel. This also makes it the most powerful known living producer of electricity. Phone running low? Hey, just plug it into an E. voltai!

But truly, this is a pretty amazing discovery. This shock would not be enough to kill a human (whew!) but it would seriously, seriously hurt (so we don't recommend teasing an E. voltai). Against the much smaller fish that the eel preys upon, it would be next to unstoppable. You can see why we think the electric eel deserves more acclaim. And now maybe it will get it!

Exhaustive search

The fact that we even know about it at all is thanks to an exhaustive search of 107 DNA eel samples from the Amazon. Until now, scientists believed that there was just one electric eel species: Electrophorus electricus. But now they know that there are actually three!

In addition to E. electricus and E. voltai, there is also E. varii. This final species is actually the least powerful of the bunch, topping out at around 570 V (which would still hurt, people!). In the end, each species has slightly different fin shape, skull shape, and other physical distinctions along with their different voltages.

So let's have a round of applause for these undersung hunters of the Amazon. Seriously, everyone clap — you won't like them when they're angry!

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