Interesting Facts

  • Electric eels are not true eels but they have a strong resemblance to true eels (Anguilliformes). They are Gymnotiformes commonly known as South American knifefish or neotropical fish.
  • These fish can produce up to 650 volts of electricity enough to severely injure humans and other animals.
  • Male electric eels make a nest with their saliva where females will lay their eggs.
  • The only way to safely catch an electric eel is to make them tired by continually discharging the organs that produce electricity.
  • A group of electric eels is called a swarm.


Conservation Status and Population

  • The electric eel is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.
  • Its population is stable and faces no major threats. It has a large distribution and variety of habitats.

Distribution and Habitat

  • The electric eel lives in the northern part of South America. It is distributed through the Guyanas and Orinoco Rivers as well as the Amazon Basin covering the territories of Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela and north of Bolivia.
  • Its preferred habitat includes the fresh waters of rivers, floodplains, creeks, streams and swamps with a preference for muddy bottoms and stagnant waters. They favor deeply shaded areas.

Electric eel distribution map. Map adapted from IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Physical Features

  • Electric eels have a long, cylindrical, snake like body that can be as long as 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) and weigh up to 44 lb (20 kg).
  • Its skin has no scales and its color in adults ranges from dark gray, brown on the back and yellow on the belly. Older specimens have a darker belly color.
  • They have a long anal fin that extends to the end of the tail and works as a means to propel its body through the water.
  • Electric eels have gills but they only obtain 20% of their oxygen intake through this organ. Instead they have to resurface on average every 10 minutes to breathe air through their mouth.
  • Its head is slightly flattened and have a large mouth.
  • The Electrophorus electricus produces electricity through 3 pairs of abdominal organs that are found in the abdomen taking up to 80% of its body. The Sach organ generate weak discharges while the Main and the Hunters organs produce larger electrical currents.
  • They have high frequency receptors through out their bodies.
  • Electric eels have a well developed sense of sound.


  • They are nocturnal animals with poor vision, in addition they live in muddy waters. They use electricity as a radar for sensing.
  • Electric eels generate strong electrical discharges for defense and predation. When they hunt they will stun the prey making it easier to eat. They can produce up to 650 volts enough to severely injure a human.
  • Using the Sach organ they generate weak discharges to communicate, identify objects and for electrolocation.


  • During the dry season the male electric eel builds a nest with his saliva into which the female lays her eggs. Females will deposit three successive batches during the spawning period.
  • Males guard the growing larvae until mid January when the rains flood the area and the newly hatched eggs and larvae disperse.
  • Up to 17,000 eggs hatch per nest. These baby electric eels feed on the eggs and larvae of late spawning.
  • There is a 3 to 1 male to female ratio. Males are larger than females.


  • Juveniles feed on invertebrates while adults on fish and small mammals.

Life Expectancy

  • In captivity male electric eels are expected to live from 10 to 15 years while females from 12 to 22 years.
  • Their life expectancy in the wild is an average of 15 years.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class :Actinopterygii
  • Order: Gymnotiformes
  • Family: Electrophoridae
  • Genus: Electrophorus
  • Species: Electrophorus electricus

Reference and further research