All I want for Festivus is an electric eel

A few years ago, Pesco wrote about a Christmas tree at a Japanese aquarium that is lit by the power of an electric eel. Now, thanks to Discover magazine's DiscoBlog, we have video of that amazing holiday miracle.

Sadly, the eel does not look nearly as thrilled with this situation as I am.


    1. Utterly electrified.

      This use for an eel reminds me of one of the topics on BBC’s QI: men would use horses to catch electric eels. They ride the horses into the eels’ lake, the eels would electrocute the horses, and then the men would catch the eels, their charge all spent for a few moments.

      “They electrocute horses, don’t they?”

  1. There’s no tree or electric lights for Festivus! Just the airing of grievances, the feats of strength, and an aluminium pole.

        1. Nice photo, but that’s a completely different type of eel. You probably know this already…
          Morays are true eels (order Anguilliformes), while electric “eels” belong to a whole different order of fishes – and they live in freshwater, not in the ocean :-)
          By the way, other members of the same order (Gymnotiformes) also produce electric pulses for communication and defense. The tiny but interesting aquarium in Colonia, Uruguay, has a very cool display with a couple of species. They show the fish (small species, about 15 cm long) along with a couple of monitors with the corresponding electrograms and the sound of the electric discharges in real time. People (me included) are fascinated :-)

      1. Why do I think it’s suffering? Because it’s in the fish equivalent of prison, in a tiny bare cell, without even the things that might make its life more bearable. When they are finished using it to light a tree, they will probably just kill it.

        According to wikipedia electric eels only give off electricity when they are hunting or in defense.

        “When agitated, it is capable of producing these intermittent electrical shocks over a period of at least an hour without signs of tiring.”

        I don’t think an electric eel normally gives off shocks for no reason.

        1. When they are finished using it to light a tree, they will probably just kill it.

          [citation needed]

  2. When he said: “If we could gather all the electric eels from around the world…”

    I was expecting to hear him say something like: “we could power a small suburb.” But I laughed when he said: “We would be able to light up an unimaginably large Christmas tree.”

    Way to dream big Kazuhiko! Good luck with your ambitious eel-powered holiday decorating plans.

  3. It’s probably much easier to power a Festivus pole with an eel than a Christmas tree, but somebody’s going to gripe about the feats of strength involved in getting the eels out of the hovercraft, and now that it’s on YouTube, somebody else will probably try to implement it with Arduinos for blog cred.

  4. This is actually so cool, I feel like alternative holiday lights are coming full circle lately, there’s that light-in-a-jar thing ( but I’d way rather have an eel. Maybe he’s just pissed cause he’s a jew and all this christmas stuff is bringing him down. EEk! or maybe SHE’S pissed cause we keep calling her a “he”.

  5. The eel doesn’t care that it’s in an undecorated tank. They have very small eyes; they’re really not very much into having a decorated environment.

    They are, however, top predators, and entirely unafraid: except for humans, the adult electric eel lacks any reasonably enemy. More than a couple of ichthyologists have been investigated by an electric eel- wearing hip waders, insulated from the water, the fish will approach and be quite curious as to what’s going on.

    I only ever had one as a pet; unfortunately, it died because of internal nematodes. The importer hadn’t bothered to treat the shipment for endoparasites, it seems, and it died some weeks after I received it. It was a very interesting fish to take care of, but it didn’t have quite the power of an electric catfish; the electric catfish were capable of stunning and consuming prey very quickly, no assistance needed. The eel- much longer than any of the catfish I owned- was seemingly incapable of catching uninjured prey.

  6. Nice of them to position the tank so the eel can see the Christmas tree lights. Maybe the eel has already figured it out, and is trying to signal a message.

  7. Rubbish.
    I don’t believe this eel is powering this tree. The shocks from electric eels and rays are certainly real and usually of quite high potential but, it’s not a high current. The effect is enhanced by the fact that the prey is immersed in a conductive solution and therefore has a good surface area and low contact resistance to conduct the current into the prey. Electric eels and rays use their electric field for both stunning and catching prey but also more commonly for navigation and sensing. Living in a dark muddy environment they are perfectly built to ‘feel’ their way around by sensing disturbances in their electric field. I believe that this is what is shown in this film Someone has put a couple of wires into the tank which sense the field triggers and then uses that to operate a switch which then turns on or off the lights.
    Importantly.. it is not the eel which is powering the tree. This would require quite a bit more current than the eel would generate. The eel is generating a pulsed field which is used to switch the power to the tree on and off and the mains is powering the tree.
    A subtle difference but an important one.
    And yes I think it is cruel. The eel is supposed to be in a muddy river bed with lots of hiding holes and crevices. Not a square tank where its constantly looking for somewhere to hide.

  8. When I was a kid, there was a “national aquarium” in the basement of a federal building in Washington, DC which had the same sort of display – an electric reel in a small enclosure with lightbulbs above it that lit up when it moved.

  9. I’m pretty sure the eel isn’t actually powering the tree, rather it is acting like an on/off switch via those electrodes.

    800W of power is not sustainable without heaps of food, and even then would probably be really stressful for the eel.

  10. This may be a stupid question, but is there any possible viability in using eels like this as an (admittedly small scale) alternative/green energy source?

    1. Not so much. Eels get their energy by burning food, and there are much more efficient ways to do that.

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