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Electrophorus electricus (Electric Eel)

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The electric eel isn’t an eel but a knifefish, despite its eel-like shape. The body is long, thick, and essentially green-brown above with a yellow-orange throat and belly. The pectoral fins are very small; the anal and caudal fins form a single continuous fin that runs from shortly behind the gill openings to the tail. This fin is used to provide thrust and manoeuvring. The dorsal and pelvic fins are absent.

A distinct feature of this species is the pattern of sensory pits around the mouth, face and flanks. The mouth itself is highly vascularised and used as an accessory breathing organ a bit like a lung. To prevent damage to the delicate tissues inside the mouth when feeding, electric eels stun their prey with an electric shock and then swallow the prey whole.

Fish information (behaviour and breeding):

Electric eels are obligate air breathers, and will suffocate if they cannot reach the surface. In the wild they are able to survive in swampy, poorly oxygenated conditions that other fish find intolerable. As well as swamps they are also found in streams and creeks, usually away from strong water currents. Juvenile fish naturally feed on invertebrates of various kinds, but as the fish mature they additionally take small vertebrates including fish and aquatic mammals. In the aquarium they will eat robust live foods such as river shrimps and earthworms. Once settled in they will also take dead foods, including lancefish, pieces of fresh white fish, and prawns.

Electric eel social behaviour is complex. As juveniles they are very snappy, but as they mature they calm down and in a big aquarium it is possible to keep them in groups. For obvious reasons they cannot be safely combined with other species of fish. The electric eel aquarium should be dimly lit and provided with lots of large hiding places. Electric eels are naturally nocturnal, but when settled in will become active during the day.

Apart from their large size, electric eels do well in captivity and are widely kept in public aquaria and as laboratory animals. They become quite tame, and despite their fearsome reputation, do not normally shock their owners. Mostly the electric eel uses a low power electric field for navigation and to communicate with others members of its species. Higher intensity shocks are used to stun prey, and only if threatened will they produce a high power defensive shock. Because big specimens can produce defensive shocks exceeding 1 amp at 250 volts, they should be treated with extreme respect, and certainly never prodded or otherwise annoyed. This amount of electricity can easily stun a man.

Family Group: Miscellaneous
Distribution South America: Amazon and Orinoco basins
Temperature 24-26C
Size Up to 2.5 metres, though aquarium specimens typically 1-2 metres
Water Parameters Adaptable, but avoid extremes
Water PH 6.0-8.0
Water Chemistry Adaptable
Diet Adaptable
Sociability Aggressive
Care Level Expert only
Schooling Fish No