The seemingly infinite biodiversity of the Amazonian ecosystem has many species that are still not discovered. And among this surplus of species, researchers have discovered two new species of electric eels. They are naked-back knifefishes (Gymnotidae) that are related to catfish and carp, rather than other eel familia.
The study published in Nature Communications explains how scientists were able to figure using DNA, morphological and environmental that there are three different species of electric eels.
Electrophorus varii and Electrophorus voltai are the new species, in addition to Electrophorus electricus that was believed to be the sole species for over 250 years. As there were no visible differences, they were thought to have been from the same species but after analyzing samples from the over 107 specimens, researchers concluded that there are, in fact, more than one.
The E. voltai, named after Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the electric battery, is the strongest bioelectric generator with the capacity to produce 860 volts. Volta came up with the electric battery after studying the physiology of the electric eel. To understand how these creatures are able to generate electricity, have a look at this video by the Smithsonian Channel.
The E. voltai are found in Brazilian Shield, a highland in southern region where the water has lower conductivity, which might be the reason for the strong voltage capacity of this species. The E. varii are found in slow-flowing lowland Amazon basin waters named after the late Richard P. Vari, a researcher at the Smithsonian Museum.
The electric discharge might seem dangerous because of the high voltage but they do not carry current more than 1 Ampere making it safe for humans. Electric eels use their alternating current to shock prey, in self-defence and also, for navigation. They have three specialised electric organs that can discharge electricity of varying power depending on the need.
Researchers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, National Geographic Society, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and other institutions collaborated on the study. The primary author of the paper, Carlos David de Santana in a statement to Smithsonian Magazine mentioned, “The discovery of new electric eel species in Amazonia, one of the planet's biodiversity hotspots, is suggestive of the vast amount of species that remain to be discovered in nature.” With so much devastation that is taking place in the Amazon rainforest, it truly is a sign of life thriving in the region with the discovery of such giant species.