Two new electric eel species found in Amazon jolt scientists

It looks like Electrophorus electricus has two new relatives scientists didn't know about
It looks like Electrophorus electricus has two new relatives scientists didn't know about Wikimedia/opencage

The discovery of two species of electric eels in the Amazon, including one that gives off a strong charge, is proof that the Amazon is still teeming with diversity, and how important it is to save the rainforest from being destroyed, said scientists in a new report on Tuesday.


"In spite of all human impact on the Amazon rainforest in the last 50 years, we can still discover giant fishes like the two new species of electric eels," said lead researcher and zoologist C. David de Santana, who works in conjunction with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the US.

This "indicates that an enormous amount of species are waiting to be discovered in the Amazon rainforest, many of which may harbour cures for diseases or inspire technological innovations," de Santana told Agence France Presse newswire.

The electric eel, which is actually a type of fish, not an eel, was the inspiration for the design of the first electric battery.

Although for years scientists thought that only one species of eel existed in the Greater Amazonia area, which includes parts of Brazil, Suriname and Guyana, de Santana and his team decided to test that idea.

An initial look at eels in different areas of the Amazon found initial little difference, but after collecting the DNA from some 107 different samples, they found three different species: Electrophorus electricus, the one they already knew about, along with new species Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii.

And an even closer look showed that E. voltai can deliver a 860-volt jolt, “making it the strongest bioelectricity generator known," according to the findings published in the Nature Communications journal.

This ‘shock’ is 210 volts higher than the voltage recorded by other eels.

Their report also theorises that these three species actually originated from one type of eel, millions of years ago -- and that each type of eel evolved in generating electricity in different ways, adapting to their diverse environments.

The E. electricus living in the Guiana Shield region, while the E. voltai  resides in the Brazilian Shield, a highland further south, while E. varii inhabits lowland Amazon basin waters.

Eels use their shocks for different reasons, from hunting to navigation, to defending themselves. Researchers believe that E. voltai has such a potent shock because it lives in highland waters where conductivity is not as effective.

"Electric eel physiology inspired the design of Volta's first electric battery, provided a basis... for treating neurodegenerative diseases and recently promoted the advance of hydrogel batteries that could be used to power medical implants," said de Santana.

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