Law enforcement officers use tasers to incapacitate offenders. A taser delivers an electric shock causing the victim’s muscles to freeze, but there is rarely any permanent damage. In the natural world, there are electric eels that use what we might call God’s taser.
Police tasers shoot two darts charged with opposite polarity producing an electric shock to stun the suspect. Electric eels emit pulses of electricity which disable the prey. The eel’s head has a positive charge, and the tail has a negative charge. The eel curls its tail around the victim and generates an electric field. The closer the tail gets to the head of the eel, the stronger the field becomes. The prey’s muscles are frozen so it cannot escape.
Electric eels also use their charge capacity to find prey. If the eel swims close to a weed bed or something else where prey is hiding, its electric field will create an effect that reveals the hiding place. The eel’s electric field will not stun the prey, but it will cause the prey’s nervous system to fire making it twitch and reveal itself.
The eel can also use its electric capacity as a defense mechanism. When an intruder approaches, the eel will rise out of the water clamping onto the intruder with its mouth. The eel’s positive head will be clamped on to the intruder, and the electricity will go through the intruder and back to the water where the negative tail is. This delivers a nasty shock of nearly one ampere – far higher than the shock of the man-made taser.
Researchers believe these eels use electric fields to track and navigate both their paths and the paths of their prey. How this works is not well understood. Science still has much to learn about electric eels.
One important point to keep in mind as we study the natural world is that maintaining balance in any ecosystem is critical. If plant eaters get too numerous, they will eat all the plants and the plant eaters all die. Predators keep the number of plant eaters in check. Animals like the electric eel are critical to maintaining the balance needed for long-term survival of all life on Earth. God has built some very sophisticated animals, and the complexity of electric eels and their use of electricity speaks of wisdom and design, not blind chance.
— John N. Clayton © 2019
Data from Scientific American, April 2019 page 65.