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"I was afraid": Strongest electric eel ever discovered by scientists

A previously undiscovered species of electric eel that delivers a shock with more than three times the voltage from a domestic outlet has been discovered in the Amazon rainforest.

The huge 2.5 meter eel has been named Electrophorus voltai by Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist who invented the battery.

The animal, a type of knife fish, can emit an electric shock that reaches up to 860 volts, the most powerful of all animals known to science.

The research from a team from the São Paulo Research Foundation, consisting of researchers from the Smithsonian Institute and the National Geographic Society, also revealed a further distinct species of electric eel. – to list the planet's recognized electric eel species from one to three.

"It is quite shocking when you discover new diversity in such eye-catching fish first described 250 years ago," leading author of the research paper, Carlos David de Santana, of the US National Museum of Natural History told New York Times .

The tremendous excitement of the new species was an aspect of how the team divided what was previously recognized as a species , in three separate species.

The use of the stress 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 as the 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 enough differences to add two new species to the genus: E. varii and E. voltai.

Professor Naércio Menezes from the University of Sao Paulo Zoology Museum, said: “We used voltage as the criterion for key differentiation. This has never been done to identify a new species. "

During field measurements with a voltmeter, researchers recorded a discharge of 860 volts, the highest in any animal, for a sample of E. voltai . The strongest shock previously recorded was 650 volts.

While the voltage is high, the team said due to the low amplitude of the shocks, they are unlikely to be fatal to humans.

In traditional analogy to understand measurements of instead of an electrical conduit, imagine a hose. The water is electric, and the voltage is the water pressure – set to a certain level whether the tap is on or off. The amplitude is the rate at which water flows down the tube when the tap is turned on – this is also controlled by the resistance, measured in ohms – whose level corresponds to the size of the tube.

According to Dr. Santana, who has entered many rivers to collect electric eels for research purposes and been shocked more than once, the discharge is high voltage but low current (about 1 amp), so it is not necessarily dangerous to humans

By comparison, a shock from a power outlet can be 10 or 20 amps.

A shock from the world's most powerful eel would not be a pleasant experience.

"I remember the first one when I was shocked," Dr. de Santana told the New York Times . "I was scared," he said, adding that he had dropped his equipment.

The research team also learned more about the social characteristics of animals. Electric eels had previously been thought of as solitary beings, pursuing prey on their own under cover of darkness.

They reported that the eels had been observed working together to coordinate their predator maneuvers, almost like a lion on a hunt, but lions armed with electricity.

"This social behavior is quite unusual," said Professor Menzes. "They gather in a school, surround the fish they feed on, emit electricity and kill it."

The research is published in Nature Communications .

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