back to article Mad scientist zaps himself to determine the power of electric eel shocks

One man has calculated the power of electric shocks emitted from electric eels on the human arm - his in fact - all in the name of science. Kenneth Catania, a neurologist and biologist at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, repeatedly shoved his arm into a tank containing a small electric eel (Electrophorus electricus …

  1. TRT Silver badge

    Can I be the first to say...

    Eels, eels, eels, eels give it up now?

    1. fedoraman

      Re: Can I be the first to say...

      ...making an entrance where they can ....

  2. DNTP

    Once More, With Eeling

    I can understand the researcher doing the eeldance once, but multiple times? Come on man, that's why you have graduate students!

    Also, the circuit diagram shows the improper practice of touching the eel with the inside, or thumb-facing side of one's arm. Proper safety protocol demands the use of the outside, or pinky-facing, side of one's arm so that the involuntary contraction of one's muscles, should such an incident occur, will automatically move the arm in a direction that breaks the circuit.

    1. m0rt

      Re: Once More, With Eeling

      Oh I dunno . I have massive respect for him over this. I mean, this is possibly the first time someone could go up for both the Nobel, and igNobel award at the same time!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Once More, With Eeling

        And Darwin.

        1. Coen Dijkgraaf

          Re: Once More, With Eeling

          > And Darwin

          No, he is only eligible for that if he manages to take himself out of the gene-pool, so he either needs to be killed or be rendered sterile by his experiments.

          He could get an Honorable Mention though, like this guy though

          7200 Volts And A Dim Bulb

    2. Les Matthew

      Re: Once More, With Eeling

      Eeling Comedy?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Once More, With Eeling

        "Eeling Comedy?"

        Only if your hovercraft is already full.

    3. Stevie

      Re: Once More, With Eeling

      Well, DNTP, we all know where this research will end: someone's todger in the eel tank.

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "I can understand the researcher doing the eeldance once, "

      I've got something for the pain

  3. Simon Brady
  4. NIck Hunn

    It's been done before

    There's a great 1954 film clip at

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: It's been done before

      Attenborough has a clip in one of his old movies as well. It was also with a big one (one big enough to kill you if you are not careful).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If an eel is a battery

    then how long will it keep my smartphone powered for? And recognising that a live eel is going to be a bit inconvenient in my pocket (insert your own joke here), how long before I can have a stem cell injection to make my arm behave like this, along with an inductive link to my phone?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: If an eel is a battery

      You want your arm to behave like an eel

      so you can zap people with it don't you ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If an eel is a battery

        I'd not considered that, but its quite a cool idea. And you could do some entertaining party tricks with balloons full of hydrogen, Christmas puddings laced with brandy, fireworks. And you could "touch and kill" electrostatic sensitive devices, like the loud mobile phones of colleagues left on their desk to annoy everybody else with a cheesy ringtone.

        Conversely, "relaxing in the gentleman's fashion" could carry certain risks.

      2. Slackness

        Re: If an eel is a battery

        And jump around, jump around...

  6. SkippyBing

    I'm sorry, they appear to have glossed over how they did the tricky bit. I.e. attaching the wires to the eel in the first place!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Carefully Skippybing ... very carefully!

    2. Lee D

      Rubber gloves.

      Is it really that hard?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eel be a while recovering from this.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Did you eely make that pun?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah, the puns are out, Unadon it now, lets start a conger.

        1. Fink-Nottle

          Well done guys, that's some eelaborate wordplay.

          Those puns hit my eye like a big pizza pie.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I'm shocked he eelectrocuted himself in the name of science.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            > Those puns hit my eye like a big pizza pie.

            That's a moray.

  8. Tony W

    Why don't they shock themseleves?

    An article in Popular Science based on this question gave the answer that basically we don't know. It certainly isn't explained by the equivalent circuit diagram given here. Any ideas?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crazy but fun, next week he's going to measure the force in a tigers bite.

    (It's 1,000 psi, 4,450 newtons) or 44.5 Norris)

  10. Christoph

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a freshly-charged Electric Eel and chances are he won't bother you for anything ever again."

    But at least they weren't Shrieking Eels.

    1. Alister

      I prefer pTerry's version:

      Give a man a fire and he'll be warm for a day, set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life...

  11. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    One bit of history I've remembered

    is that the ancient Greeks applied an electric eel as the treatment for a prolapsed rectum.

    Icon because there isn't a lightning strike option.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: One bit of history I've remembered


      It sure did! They could not sit for days!

  12. John Latham

    Shock in watts?

    "the power of the shock was calculated to be approximately 3.9 Watts – enough to make Catania flinch and pull away"

    Electric fence energisers are rated in joules. I assume this is because energy is correlated with unpleasantness.

    Mine runs at 0.8J. I'd rate it about 6 on the psychological damage scale, or "not doing that again, even for beer".

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: Shock in watts?

      Yep, its a real shame that he didn't set up the experiment to include a storage scope so he could record the time element. Looking at some of the videos, it looks like the fish can sustain up to 2 seconds of pulses at an approximate 50% duty cycle although probably not a square wave. It does look though as if this little fish could possibly produce more energy than a 0.8J fence.

      edit: Just found a video ( ) showing one goading an alligator then killing it. Unfortunately for the fish, the gator dies with a death grip on its neck. The main thing is, it keeps shocking the gator continuously for just over 45 seconds, so several 10s of Joules involved.

    2. Marcelo Rodrigues

      Re: Shock in watts?

      "Mine runs at 0.8J. I'd rate it about 6 on the psychological damage scale, or "not doing that again, even for beer"."

      Here, a pint for you!



  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


  14. Anonymous C0ward

    His hovercraft

    It's full of them.

  15. handleoclast

    Electrophorus electricus

    Should, of course, be Electrophorus electricus. Please respect scientific typographic conventions. Species and genus should be italicised.

  16. ilmari

    The 46mA is actually impressively strong. It's in the potential death territory (but not certain death, far from it), if the shock went across a heart instead if through an arm.

  17. Tromos

    960 Ohms

    You can tell by the white, blue and brown bands on the eel.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: 960 Ohms

      Ah, but did it have a gold band for 5% tolerance?

      Experimental error should be properly characterised...

      1. Stratman

        Re: 960 Ohms

        "Ah, but did it have a gold band for 5% tolerance?

        I'm guessing an electric eel annoyed enough to zap is extremely intolerant.

    2. LaFin

      Re: 960 Ohms

      and the replaceable fuses! They swap them out every year for higher ratings! Got to watch out for those 12Amp-ers!

  18. FSM


    "Last year, he proved that eels could jump [start a car!]"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Typo?

      Unfortunately around 40 years ago a pioneering science show produced by the BBC was mistaken for a new form of oddball comedy ... had people taken it seriously then perhaps we would have solved the problems of carbon fuel based transport and we'd all be traveling in the electrically powered hovercraft that they wanted to publicize using a natural supply of electricity. Sadly they did receive the support they needed to enable them to size reduce the power supply leading to the dismissive comment that "my hovercraft is full of eels".

  19. Not also known as SC

    Mad - he was furious!

    He'd actually dropped his car keys in the tank and didn't want to admit to it in front of his colleagues. This was the only way to fish them out without any one realising!

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Mad - he was furious!

      He was recharging the key fob?

  20. Stevie


    Jumping electric eels?

    Missed a trick then. Should have called Finless "Jehosaphat".

  21. LaFin

    Their mating must be Eelectrical!! #batteriesincluded!

  22. ARGO
    Thumb Up

    "published in Current Biology"

    How apt.

  23. herman Silver badge

    The eels made him teacher of writhing and reeling.

    1. Alister

      The eels made him teacher of writhing and reeling.

      and the different branches of arithmetic:

      ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Electrophorus Electricus

    Best latin name ever!!!

    NB, I love speaking Latin, I must pay a visit there sometime.

  25. Paul Woodhouse

    so the new Reg unit is going to be 3.9Watts = 1 eel


    1. Patched Out
      Thumb Up

      "3.9Watts = 1 eel"

      A thumbs up for that. Count it as my vote for adoption of this new standard - though it may need to be scaled up for a full size eel. Get back to your research Mr. Catania and post back with your results for an average-size adult eel.

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