The enormous 2.5 metre eel has been named the Electrophorus voltai after Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist who invented the battery.
The animal, a type of knifefish, can discharge an electric shock reaching as high as 860 volts, the most powerful of any animal known to science.
The research by a team from the São Paulo Research Foundation, comprising scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Society, also revealed a further distinct species of electric eel – bringing the planet’s recognised electric eel species up from one, to three.
“It’s quite literally shocking, when you discover new diversity in such an eye-catching fish first described 250 years ago,” lead author of the research paper, Carlos David de Santana, from the US National Museum of Natural History told the New York Times.
The enormous voltage from the new species was one aspect of how the team split what was previously recognised as one species, into three separate species.
The use of the voltage an animal can produce is a first in taxonomy.
The team also correlated DNA, morphology and environmental data to conclude the animals in question should be reclassified into three species.
The only species of electric eel previously known to science was Electrophorus electricus, which Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus described in 1766.
In addition to E. electricus, now defined as the species living in the northernmost part of the Amazon region, the researchers found sufficient differences to add two new species to the genus: E. varii and E. voltai.
Professor Naércio Menezes, of the University of Sao Paulo’s Zoology Museum, said: “We used voltage as the key differentiation criterion. This has never been done before to identify a new species.”