Kenneth C. Catania stuck his arm in a tank and let an electric eel shock him…all in the name of science. Catania published his research in the journal Current Biology on September 14, which revealed that the eel used in the study had “an electromotive force of 198 V and an internal resistance of 960 ohms.” Though, something about his research doubled as not only fascinating but ground-breaking. The eel struck him above water, which is something that has only ever been recorded once back in the 1800s.
When an eel shocks someone underwater, the charge doesn’t hurt nearly as much as one above water would. Water carries electricity so if the eel is still underwater, a person wouldn’t feel the current half as much as they would if nothing were between them and the eel.
Catania outlined several illustrations in the publication, which outlined how he tried about ten times to receive a shock. When he did, the shocks occurring towards the end of the study were up to 50 mA. He writes, “Although 40–50 mA may not seem like much electrical current, it is far above the levels usually used to study pain and reflexive withdrawal reflexes. Most studies of withdrawal reflexes in humans stimulate with transcutaneous currents in the 5–10 mA range.”
Catania’s research finally offers some insight into the world of electric eels and their behavior. He believes that a shock above water is a way for the electric eel to protect itself from predators on land. He also adds that this study should be taken with a grain of salt and not applied to every case given that he was struck by a young eel and this is only one case. According to Catania, a larger electric eel can reach an electromotive force of 500 V.
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