D: I have a question for you, Yaël: What did one eel say to another when they met unexpectedly?
Y: I think I know where this is going…
D: “I’m shocked to see you!” Get it?
Y: Very funny, Don. But timely. Researchers recently made the shocking discovery that there are actually three species of electric eels!
D: I’ve see eels at the aquarium, and every one of them is about 6 feet long, with wrinkly, grayish skin. How could the scientists tell different species apart?
Y: To the untrained eye, they do all look alike. But the research team studied one hundred seven specimens in the Amazon Basin. They realized there were small but definite variations among the eels’ skull shape and body structure, and clear differences in their genomes, too.
D: Well, that makes sense. Electric eels have a big geographic range in South America. My guess is that the three species each adapted to their different environments.
Y: That’s what the researchers guess. Two species, for instance, might have a certain skull shape to help them swim and hunt in swift, rocky rivers. Hang on, though—I haven’t told you the best part. One of the new species has the strongest shock of any eel ever studied: 860 volts!
D: That’s gotta hurt. After all, previously, the max zap of an eel was 650 volts. Eels use their electric shocks for capturing prey, communication, and defending themselves. Remind me never to swim with an upset eel.Y: It’s appropriate that this species is called the Electrophorus voltai—the researchers named it in honor of Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery.