A Moment of Science

The Electric Sense

Some aquatic animals have a sixth sense that allows them to detect electrical fields in water.

Confocal micrograph of a blind cavefish embryo

Photo: wellcome images (flickr)

Mexican blind cave fish are one example of an animal that actively produces an electric field for the sake of gleaning information from the surrounding environment.

You may have heard that there are some animals with senses we don’t have. How can that be?

The answer is that senses detect energy and chemical substances in an animal’s environment, and in some environments forms of energy are present that aren’t present in ours. Since water is much better at conducting electricity than air is, electric fields spread through water, but not air. Some aquatic animals can detect this electrical energy with a special sense.

Whenever muscles contract, they generate electrical signals. In dark and murky waters, predators with an electric sense can use these tell-tale signals to find their prey. Sharks, skates, rays and some bony fish have an electric sense, and a few aquatic mammals, like the platypus and some dolphins do too.

Some bony fish even actively generate an electrical field that surrounds the fish’s body. Nearby objects distort the field. The electric fish can detect these distortions and use them to sense its surroundings.

Read More:

  • Electroception In Fish, Amphibians And Monotremes (Map Of Life)
  • Sharks Sixth Sense Related To Human Genes (LiveScience)

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