National Aquarium – Electric Eel

Electric Eel

Electrophorus electricus


Electric eels can produce up to 600 volts of electricity.

Exhibit Name and Location:
Washington - Amazon River Basin Gallery

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National Aquarium – Electric Eel National Aquarium – Electric Eel National Aquarium – Electric Eel

Electric Eel

Electrophorus electricus—everything about this eel’s scientific name says high voltage! Of the fishes able to generate an electrical discharge, electric eels are by far the champions, producing up to 600 volts!

Electric eels live in muddy waters and have poor vision; they rely on low-level electrical fields to navigate and explore their surroundings. Higher levels of voltage are generated to stun or kill prey and to protect eels from predators.

Although not true eels, these nearly scaleless fish look the part with long, cylindrical bodies and a slightly flattened head.

The electric eel has no dorsal fin, but the anal fin extends from the tip of the tail nearly to the chin. This sinuous fin flutters like a ribbon, allowing the fish to move forward and backward with equal ease.

Only the front one-fifth of the animal contains vital organs. These are located directly behind its head. The rest of the body is comprised of organs that produce electricity.

Electric eels are mostly blind and use their electric pulses to navigate.


Juveniles feed on invertebrates such as crabs and freshwater shrimp. As adults, they eat amphibians, fishes, and crustaceans.


Electric eels can grow to more than 8 feet in length and weigh nearly 45 pounds.


Electric eels are found in murky pools and calm stretches of the middle and lower Amazon and Orinoco River basins in South America.

Population Status

Electric eels are abundant throughout their range, but cannot be collected without a scientific permit. Some areas have strict laws prohibiting hobbyists from keeping electric eels because they pose a potential threat to local fish and human populations if they were to escape.


Electric eels are top predators in their niche, with few other animals willing or able to take on these highly charged fish.

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A Note From the Caretaker

Electric eels live in areas that may have limited oxygen in the water, so they have a specialized swim bladder that can absorb oxygen from air they gulp at the surface.