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New species of Amazon electric eel discovered with shocking superpower

The Sun, AP, September 12, 2019 7:00PM Kids News

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Electrophorus voltai, one of the two newly discovered electric eel species, in Brazil's Xingu River. Picture: Leandro Sousa via AP media_cameraElectrophorus voltai, one of the two newly discovered electric eel species, in Brazil's Xingu River. Picture: Leandro Sousa via AP

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Researchers have found a species of electric eel from the Amazon that has more than three times the voltage* of a power point.

The incredible creature is able to make 860 volts* (V) of electricity, compared to the 230V that comes through household power points in Australia.

The only previously known species of electric eel can generate* 650V. For hundreds of years everyone thought this was the only species of electric eel.

Called Electrophorus voltai, the 2.4m long eel uses its superpower to stun its prey.

However, even though electric eels have been seen leaping out of the water, humans are almost never electrocuted* by an electric eel.

The team that made the discovery also found another species of electric eel in the Amazon in South America, which increases the number of recognised species of electric eel from one to three. There are no known electric eels outside South America.

They named the other newly discovered species Electrophorus varii. They can tell the two new species apart because of the enormous voltage of Electrophorus voltai.

media_cameraElectrophorus voltai diving deep in the Xingu River, Brazil. This species grows to 2.4m long. Picture: Leandro Sousa via AP

The scientists also learned more about electric eels’ behaviour.

They were previously thought of as loners that hunt by themselves under cover of darkness.

But the team spotted eels working together to co-ordinate attacks, similar to how pack animals such as lions hunt, with the added superpower of being able to zap their prey.

The research was by a team from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, made up of scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Society.

They collected 107 eels in four countries in the Amazon.

media_cameraTypical electric eel highland habitat in Suriname’s Coppename River. Picture: Carlos David de Santana via AP

Lead author David de Santana said voltai’s size made them hard to miss.

“They’re really conspicuous,” he said.

He said the discovery shows the importance of protecting and studying the Amazon rainforest.

“If you can discover a new 8ft-long fish after 250 years of exploration, can you imagine what remains to be discovered in that region?”

ELECTRIC CREATURES
The are now three known species of electric eel, including the previously known Electrophorus electricus, which Swedish naturalist* Carl Linnaeus described in 1766.

Even though we call these three species electric eels, they aren’t really eels. They’re a type of electric fish called knifefish that live in swamps, streams, creeks and rivers across northern South America.

media_cameraTypical electric eel lowland habitat in Brazil’s Itaquai River. Picture: D Bastos via AP

There are hundreds of known species of electric fish in oceans and in freshwater in South America and Africa.

While 250 species of fish in South America make electricity, most are only weakly electric and only electric eels use their power to stun prey and for self-protection.

Many more species — such as sharks and catfish — can detect electricity but can’t make it, so they’re not called electric fish.

There are a few land animals that can detect electricity, including Australia’s echidna plus the platypus, which lives both on land and in water.

Zoo media_cameraThis is Lynx the male echidna, who lives at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, NSW. Picture: Toby Zerna

GLOSSARY

  • voltage: the measurement of how forcefully electric current is pushed through from its source
  • volts: V for short, the unit of voltage
  • generate: make
  • electrocuted: killedby electric shock
  • naturalist: an expert in studying nature

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many volts can this eel generate?
  2. How does that compare to the voltage of Australian power points?
  3. Where in the world do electric eels live?
  4. Describe the hunting behaviour the scientists saw.
  5. Why are the echidna and platypus mentioned in this story?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Electrical Superpower
The author describes this fascinating characteristic of the electric eel as a ‘superpower’.

Imagine being able to produce 860 volts of electricity on demand. What could you do with this power? How would it help you in today’s world? Could you use it to help others? Would this be a good superpower to have?

Could it be a hindrance?

Write a list of POSITIVES and NEGATIVES about having this superpower. Decide whether you would like to become a superhero with the ability to give off 860 volts of electricity on demand.

If you decide you would like this power – draw yourself as an ‘electrically charged’ superhero. Give yourself a name and distinctive costume.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking 

2. Extension
Electric eels are fascinating creatures with some pretty cool tricks for catching prey.  

Did you know…

  • Electric eels have poor eyesight.
  • Electric eels can use their electricity to make their prey involuntarily twitch so that they can sense the movement and catch it.

Create a class chart called ‘Fascinating facts about electric eels’.

Re-read the article and then do some further research about electric eels. When you find out an interesting or fascinating fact about them add it to the ‘Did you know…’ list. How many interesting facts can you find about them?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Give this supercharged electric eel Electrophorus voltai a common name to set it apart from the two other known electric eel species. Can you give the other two species common names too?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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