A newly discovered species of eel produces a shock of 860 volts, the highest load of all known animals in the world.
The creature is one of the two additional species of fish identified by scientists who examined 107 specimens from the Amazon rainforest.
The newly discovered eel produces a zap that is more than 200 volts higher than ever previously registered, but is according to experts unlikely to kill a human.
It used to be believed that there was only one type of electric eel.
The only species that was already known to science was the Electrophorus electricus, which the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus registered in 1766.
But researchers have now found evidence to add two new species to the genus: E. varii and E. voltai, the last of which is the eel that produces the 860-volt shock.
Electrophorus voltai (photo), one of the two newly discovered species of electric eel, produces a shock of 860 volts, the highest charge of all known animals in the world
Eel uses its electric shock both to protect itself and to hunt.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, not only offers new knowledge about the animal more than 250 years after it was first described, but also opens opportunities for research into the origin and production of strong electrical discharges in other fish species.
Electric eels are naked knives, known as Gymnotidae, and are more closely related to catfish and carp than to other eel families.
Gymnotiformes, the knifefish family to which Gymnotidae belongs, is native to Mexico and South America and is found almost exclusively in freshwater habitats.
They are mostly nocturnal and can all produce a weak electric field for communication and navigation and most have very small eyes.
Study author Dr. Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), said: & # 39; The electric eel, which can reach 2.5 meters in length, is the only fish that so & Produces a strong discharge; it uses three electric organs.
& # 39; The shock is used for defense and predation. & # 39;
The long-recognized Electrophorus electricus (photo) was described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1766
The third species, Electrophorus varii (photo), named after the late Smithsonian ichthyologist Richard Vari, swims through turbid, slow-flowing lowland waters
After studying the DNA, bodies and environment of the animals and measuring the force of the shocks, the researchers decided that the previously separate species had to be reclassified into three.
Professor Naércio Menezes, from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, said: & # 39; We used stress as the most important differentiation criterion.
& # 39; This has never been done before to identify a new species. & # 39;
During field measurements using a voltmeter, he said the research team recorded a discharge of 860 volts, the highest found in an animal, from a copy of E. voltai.
The strongest shock that was previously observed was 650 volts.
The name of the species is a tribute to Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who invented the electric battery in 1799 and based the design on the electric eel.
E. varii is named after zoologist Richard P. Vari, an American researcher who died in 2016.
Dr. Santana added: & # 39; He was the foreign researcher who most influenced Brazilian students and researchers and helped study fish in South America. & # 39;
Two of the species, Electrophorus electricus and E. voltai, live in the highland region of the Amazon (photo)
Dr. Santana, who has entered several rivers to collect electric eels for research purposes and is shocked more than once, said the discharge is high voltage but low amperage – about one ampere, so it is not necessarily dangerous for humans.
In comparison, a shock from a power outlet can be 10 or 20 amps, but has a lower voltage – 240v in the UK.
But Dr. Santana explained that the electric eel does not emit a direct current but an alternating current – in pulses, and his charge is exhausted after a strong shock.
The electric organ needs some time to charge.
But still Dr. Santana that a meeting with a bed of electric eels in the water can be quite dangerous.
He said the shock won't kill a healthy person, but it can be dangerous if you have a weak heart. It can also contribute to a fall or drowning.
The third species, E. varii, lives mainly in lowland areas in dark rivers with relatively little oxygen and sandy or muddy soils.
Dr. Santana said: “The shock stunns the victim. It is strong enough to help the fish catch prey or deter a predator. & # 39;
The group's research has shown that electric eels communicate to convene groups that can electrocute a potential threat.
HOW ELECTRIC POSTS DELIVER THEIR UNIQUE SHOCK
All muscle and nerve cells have electrical potential and a simple muscle contraction will release a small amount of stress.
Between 100 and 200 million years ago, a number of fish began to strengthen that potential.
They evolved electrocytes from muscle cells, which were organized in order and could generate much higher voltages.
Nowadays, the electric eel can produce electric shocks of up to 600 volts. Despite its name, it is not closely related to real eel.
It has a long, lime-free cylindrical body and a square moth at the end of its snout.
Two organs, known as the hunter's organ and the Sach's organ, give the fish the possibility to generate electrical discharges.
When the eel sees prey, it opens the ion channels in these organs, reversing polarity and creating an electrical potential.
This generates an electric current that it uses to immobilize small prey. However, the shock is probably not deadly to humans.
Contrary to what was previously claimed, the eels are not solitary and often associate in groups of up to 10 during adulthood.
The new classification was based on an analysis of 107 specimens collected in different parts of the Amazon in Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana.
Dr. Santana said: & their body shape is highly conserved. It hasn't changed much during 10 million years of evolution.
& # 39; Only a few details of their external morphology distinguish them, and only an integrated analysis of morphology, genetics and ecology could make a robust distinction between the species. & # 39;
He added: & # 39; The discovery of new species of electric eel in Amazonia, one of the planet's biodiversity hotspots, suggests the huge amount of species that can still be discovered in nature.
& # 39; In addition, the region is of great importance for other scientific areas, such as medicine and biotechnology, reinforcing the need to protect and preserve it, and it is important for studies with partnerships between Brazilian researchers and between us and groups in other countries, to explore the biodiversity of the region. & # 39;
The species that has retained the name E. electricus is present in an area far north of Amazonia known to geologists as the Guiana Shield, and includes the northern regions of three Brazilian states Amapa, Amazonas and Roraima, and Guyana, French Guyana and Suriname.
In the meantime, E. voltai inhabits the Brazilian shield, which is located in the south of Pará and Amazonas, as well as Rondonia and the north of Mato Grosso.
Shield regions are quite high, with a height of more than 300 meters.
E. varii, on the other hand, lives in the lowest part of the Amazon basin and lives in dark rivers with relatively little oxygen and sandy or muddy soils.
The researchers also estimate that the species diverged twice, with the first time about 7.1 million years ago, when they separated from their common ancestor.
Only about 3.6 million years ago did E. voltai and E. electricus reach their current status.
There are only a few animals in the world that produce electricity.
They include the black ghost knifefish, electric rays, the northern stargazer and the electric catfish.
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