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electric fish

electric fish, name for various fish that produce electricity by means of organs usually developed from modified muscle tissue. The electric eels of South America are freshwater knifefish unrelated to the eel. Electrophorus electricus, the best known and long believed to be the only species, has organs along the ventral surface capable of producing as much as 650 volts of electricity—enough to light a neon bulb. It is found in the Guiana Shield region of N South America. The others species are E. voltai, which can produce as much as 860 volts and is found is the Brazil Shield region of E Brazil, and E. varii, which is found in murky, slow moving lowland Amazonian waters. Other electric fish include the electric ray, or torpedo; a freshwater electric catfish with a jellylike subcutaneous electric organ (probably of epidermal origin) that extends over the whole body; and various species of stargazer. All these fish produce electricity at will to paralyze or kill their prey, to repel their enemies, and to aid in navigation. Recent experiments have shown that when an electric eel is in motion it generates pulses of low-energy electricity which serve to detect the presence of nearby objects. Scientists believe that electric organs in fishes may function also in communication between individuals. Electric eels are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Actinopterygii, order Gymnotiformes, family Gymnotidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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