The Living Taser
Electric eels hunt their prey with intense electrical impulses. They also use them skillfully for defense. Sophisticated measurements and painful self-experiments provide amazing insights into the behavior of the animals.
Electric eels stun their prey - this is well known. Reports of this go back centuries. From a scientific point of view, however, the term "anaesthetising" is much too vague. What really happens when the fish attack? Until recently, biologists knew surprisingly little about it.
Originally, I had no intention of investigating this extraordinary phenomenon, and I never would have imagined offering my arm to a specimen in the name of research. How did that happen? As a professor of biology, I wanted to spice up my classes with photos and slow-motion footage of electric eels. One day I took a few specimens to my lab. Then I observed something so strange that I dropped everything else to study it intensively from then on.
When one of the brought-in electric eels attacked a prey with a high-voltage salvo, within three milliseconds all nearby fish in the tank became completely immobile. They floated frozen in the water. At first I thought they were dead. But as soon as the electric eel turned off the high voltage, the fish woke up and quickly swam away. So the effects of the attack were temporary. This fascinated me enormously, and now I really wanted to find out more about it…