Electric Fish

You may have heard that electric eels can produce electric current which they use to shock their prey or to defend themselves, but you may not have known that there are actually a number of fish species that produce and detect electric currents, and that this "extra sense" has a variety of uses. Using electric discharges (called EOD, Electric Organ Discharge) produced in a specially adapted electric organ and specialized electroreceptors on their body surface, electric fish are able to stun prey or predators, sense objects around them, detect prey, and even communicate with other fish. This site is designed to give an idea of how electric fish acomplish these tasks using electric signals, and provide examples of each behavior.

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The Elephant Nose Fish. Image used with permission of TheTropical Tank.
An Electric Catfish. Image used with permission of Dr. William Fink.

 

Electric fishes are divided into the three main categories. Strongly electric fish, like the Electric Eel, produce powerful electric discharges. The Electric Eel produces a signal between 500-600 V, which is powerful enough to kill other fish and possibly even an animal as large as a full grown person (Schmidt-Neilsen 2001). Weakly electric fish produce signals far too faint to kill or stun prey. These weak signals are used instead for locating prey or objects in the environment, and for communication. Some fish cannot produce electric charges at all, but still have the ability to sense the small electric charges that occur in all animals because of normal muscle function. These fish can use their electroreceptivity to detect small electrical signals from the muscles of prey organisms, which allows them to locate and attack prey more accuratly (Schmidt-Neilsen 2001).

Strongly electric fish
Weakly electric fish
Fishes that can only sense electricity
    • electric eel
    • knife fishes
    • sharks
    • electric catfish
    • elephant nose
    • most rays
    • electric rays
    • skates
    • most catfish
    • paddlefish

(Kawasaki)

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This website was created as a part of a class project in the Animal Physiology Class at Davidson College.