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Electric Eels Have "Mind Control" Powers

| 5 Dec 2014 22:00

Electric eels can apparently use their electricity to remotely control prey, which from all outward appearances looks like a psychic attack.

Electric eels already had special abilities that made them superpowered mutants of the animal kingdom. It's in the name, after all; they can generate up to 650 volts of electricity from their bodies for attacking enemies or generating sonar for navigation. But it turns out this electricity gives them access to a far stranger ability: a newly discovered mind control that leaves prey utterly helpless.

"Fish are amazing escape artists," Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania explained. "If the electric eel didn't have this capability, it would have a really hard time catching something to eat. The mechanism is the same as a taser."

In a study published by Science Magazine, Catania revealed that electric eels can use electricity to remotely control their prey. First, the eels releases low-voltage electric pulses that causes nearby fish muscles to spasm. Once the eel picks up on the fish's involuntary movements, it cuts loose with high-voltage pulses that forces muscles to contract. These contractions completely halt the fish's movement, at which point the eel can feed without worrying its prey will escape.

Electric eels (which technically aren't eels, but a form of knifefish) generate electrical impulses using three organs along the abdomen. While two are used for generating sonar, it's this third organ that can take out prey at a staggeringly fast three milliseconds. Without knowing about these organs, the phenomenon probably looked like some kind of psychic attack that caused fish to surrender immediately.

Electric eel shocks usually aren't fatal to humans, but you'll forgive me if I'm still reluctant to visit one for a "mind-reading" session.

Source: Science, via National Geographic

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