The Electric Eel Death Spiral

How the notorious fish take down especially large, feisty prey.

Electric eels use high-voltage pulses to stun small prey almost immediately. Now researchers writing in Current Biology have captured a special maneuver eels break out when they want to chomp down on an especially large, feisty fish.

An eel’s head is the positive pole of the body and its tail is the negative pole: by grabbing their prey by the mouth and curling the tail to the opposite side, electric eels bring the negative and positive poles in close proximity, amplifying the strength of their pulses. Electrodes placed within the prey recorded that the field strength doubled, helping the eel take down larger, stronger fish. The pulses soon induce muscle fatigue in its victim, at which point the eel can safely steer the fish into place and then eat it. The sophisticated maneuver shows the eels are far from a one-trick predator.