Shark Week Needs Some Competition

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Ed continues his captivating coverage of the electric eel:

Kenneth Catania started studying electric eels a few years ago, and soon became obsessed. In quick order, he showed that they paralyze their prey with intense high-voltage shocks, which stimulate the neurons that feed into muscles, forcing the victim’s body to involuntarily stiffen. He discovered that they can generate subtler shocks to make their prey twitch, and so give away their position. And, as I covered just last week, he found that they use electric fields to sense the position of their helpless targets and guide their final strikes.  

Last year, he started noticing something odd. Although electric eels typically swallow their stunned victims with a quick strike, they sometimes curl their bodies around their prey, pinioning them between head and tail. “I wrote a little note to myself on a Post-It, saying: Is there an effect?” he says. As it happens: yes.

Read the rest here; essentially the eel’s head and tail act as two ends of a battery, delivering a much stronger charge to its prey than a typical strike. (Check out a typical strike in the video seen above, featuring Catania.) In addition to their multifaceted powers of hunting, electrical eels also apparently specialize in dad jokes:

That eel, at the Tennessee Aquarium, also sends a tweet whenever he emits a strong discharge. But the coolest thing I’ve come across is the following eel in the wild, who takes out an alligator in a dramatic murder-suicide: