Electrophorus electricus—everything about this fish’s scientific name says high voltage! So, it’s no surprise that of the fishes able to generate an electrical discharge, electric eels are the champions, producing up to 600 volts.
Electric eels live in muddy waters. Mostly blind, they rely on low-level electrical pulses to navigate and explore their surroundings. Higher levels of voltage are generated to stun or kill prey and to protect them from predators.
Though commonly referred to as an eel, this fish is not considered a “true” eel. While true eels are classified in the order Anguilliformes, the electric eel is actually in the order Gymnotiformes, the knife fishes. Knife fishes have no dorsal fin and a long, extended anal fin.
Although not true eels, these nearly scaleless fish look the part with long, cylindrical bodies and a slightly flattened head. The electric eel’s anal fin extends from the tip of the tail nearly to the chin. Fluttering like a ribbon, it allows the fish to move forward and backward with ease.
The electric eel’s vital organs are contained in just one-fifth of its body, directly behind its head. The rest of the body contains the organs that generate electricity.
A Note from the Caretaker
Electric eels have a special mucous membrane in their mouth that can absorb oxygen from the air, which helps them survive during the dry seasons.
Learn more about the electric eel! Did you know that electric eels can produce up to 600 volts of electricity
Electric eels are found in murky pools and calm stretches of the middle and lower Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America.
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 can weigh nearly 45 pounds.
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, with few other animals willing or able to take on these highly charged fish.
Meet the Expert Jack Cover
As the National Aquarium's general curator, Jack Cover ensures that all animals in our care thrive in healthy, beautiful habitats.