Beware, those of you planning a trail ride along the Amazon River in South America this summer. This month, scientists have finally proven a question that has been bugging them for more than 200 years: Can an electric eel leap out of the water and deliver enough voltage t0 kill a horse?
As if electric eels needed another reason to keep us out of the water, that answer is apparently yes, according to an article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And the findings are even more terrifying than we suspected.
It was the Prussian explorer, naturalist, and Romantic philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) who first made that jumping eels claim back when he was exploring the Amazon in 1800. According to von Humboldt, the electric eels he observed were leaping from the water to attack, delivering enough voltage even to kill a horse. Since that time, though, scientists, have mostly figured the dude was exaggerating, especially since no similar reports have ever been made.
Enter one of those very same skeptics, Ken Catania, the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. Catania told Reuters that he thought von Humboldt’s tale was bizarre, and couldn’t understand why an eel would leap out of the water and attack instead of just swimming away. So the biologist, who has been studying eels for years, decided to put the story to the test.
Using a plastic arm and alligator head outfitted with a conductive metal strip and a network of LED lights, Catania introduced the model to a cornered (read: threatened) eel. The LED lights, Catania explained, would represent the endings of pain nerves in the crocodile’s head being stimulated. The eel happily obliged to participate in the experiment, and as you might guess, that croc’s head light up brighter than the Griswold family Christmas tree.
The study supports that idea that when an eel is submerged and emits electrical pulses, they are distributed throughout the water, thereby lessening the effects. In most cases, the charge is still strong enough to freeze an eel’s intended prey in a state of shock. Out of the water, however, the eel attacks with its chin directly on the skin, and the high voltage zapping hits the unfortunate victim with intensified—and potentially deadly—power.
The result looks something like this, which is to say, be it human, horse or otherwise, it’s not something we’d ever want to witness first-hand.
More fun stuff to make you the smartest rider in the room, right this way…