A NEW species of electric eel capable of delivering an electric shock three times that of a domestic wall socket has been found in the Amazon.
The eight feet long Electrophorus voltai is the world's most powerful electric eel and is capable of generating 860 volts – enough to stun an adult human.
The creatures use electricity to stun their prey and have been known to leap out of the water but deaths of humans are extremely rare.
The team that made the discovery also found another species of electric eel, which increases the number of recognised species of eel from one to three.
It has been named Electrophorus varii and the two new species were able to be separated because of the enormous voltage of Electrophorus voltai.
The scientists also learned more about electric eels’ behaviour.
They had previously been thought of as solitary creatures that prey on their own under cover of darkness.
But the team spotted eels working together to coordinate attacks in behaviour that resembles pack animals such as lions – but armed with the ability to zap their prey.
The research was carried out by team from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, made up of scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Society.
“These fish grow to be seven to eight feet long. They’re really conspicuous,” said David de Santana, the lead author of a study published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.
HUNT IN PACKS
“If you can discover a new 8ft-long fish after 250 years of exploration, can you imagine what remains to be discovered in that region?”
He explained that while a shock from one of the creatures may not be pleasant, it’s unlikely to be deadly.
“I remember the first time I was shocked. I was scared,” Dr de Santana told the New York Times.
Electric eels not actually eels but knifefish, and they have been known to naturalists for more than 250 years.
They live in swamps, streams, creeks and rivers across northern South America.
The only species of electric eel previously known to science was Electrophorus electricus, which Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus described in 1766.
De Santana and his colleagues believe the two groups of eels began to evolve some seven million years ago.
According to DNA analysis, Electrophorus voltai and E. electricus diverged around 3.6 million years ago, around the time the Amazon changed course.
De Santana said Electrophorus voltai's super-charge may have been developed over time to adapt to the lower conductivity of highland waters where it lives.
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