Scientist Repeatedly Shocks Himself with an Electric Eel to Test Its Power

Thursday, 14 September 2017 - 8:26PM
Weird Science
Thursday, 14 September 2017 - 8:26PM
Scientist Repeatedly Shocks Himself with an Electric Eel to Test Its Power
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YouTube/Kenneth Catania
This right here? This is how we get supervillains. Biologist and professor of Vanderbilt University Kenneth Catania has published a paper in Current Biology which details his repeated attempts to quantify the power output of electric eels when they're above water.

Weird as it may sound, while anthropologists have long since known that electric eels produce a current to ward off predators (hence the name), and have even been known to leap out of the water to attack land animals when given the opportunity, there's not been any solid research into the strength of an eel's zap when shocking someone mid-air.

Eels' natural superpower is designed to give help the creature to maintain a wide area of safety from other foes. Its electric zaps dissipate quickly in water, giving enemies in a wide vicinity a low level shock to startle them away. Remove the water, though, and the theory has been that electric eels' zaps must become all the more potent, as they're now focused on a single location, and aren't (literally) watered down.

According to Catania, his quest to discover just how much juice an eel outputs led inescapably to him placing his own hand in a tank and allowing one of these creatures to shock him repeatedly:

Catania states that, considering his longstanding professional fascination with the creatures, this seemed like a logical next step in his research that he simply couldn't ignore. Deliberately getting shocked "almost seemed like destiny, in a weird way"; a move that Catania himself deliberately foreshadowed by using a fake arm with a wedding ring that matched his own, just for fun, until he worked up the courage to try the experiment for himself.

All in all, it took ten attempts to get a solid set of results from the eel's shock, from which Catania was able to discover that the eel was outputting around 40-50 miliamps each time. This isn't exactly enough electricity to power a semi truck, but as the human body can generally only sustain 10 miliamps without wincing reflexively, it's still a pretty impressive force.

It's worth noting, though, that Catania did (mercifully, for his own sake) deliberately use a young eel that has not yet developed its full power. According to Catania, had he used a fully grown electric eel, and allow it to rear up out of the water and strike him in the chest, the force could well be more than that of a taser. It's good to know that this scientist draws the line somewhere when it comes to eel-enabled electrocution.

At present, these results are far from scientifically solid - Catania would need to repeat his research with a wide variety of eels and human participants in order to produce results that would give a full picture of the strength of this animal's electric shocks.

Apparently, Catania has more than enough human volunteers to begin such a study, as people have been fascinated by his work and offered to try out the experience for themselves, but apparently, having experienced the shocks first-hand, the professor is in no rush to undertake a longer research project into the size and effect of eel electricity.

Either that, or he's deliberately hoarding all the eel zaps for himself. We may be looking at the new Electro, if Amazing Spider-Man 2 is anything to go by.

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