Intensifying Animals
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Thursday, January 8, 2015

It’s electric! Electric powers have ignited people’s imaginations via fictional characters throughout time. From “The Little Mermaid” to Thor and Electro, it may seem like having an electric charge is an ability only superheroes enjoy. This is not the case. Along with the quintessential electric eel, there are a few other creatures in the animal kingdom that hold an electric charge. While the charge isn’t enough to have lighting powers like the Norse god, learning about these creatures is electrifying.

•     Electric eels
It’s only logical to start a list about electric animals with the king of them all. Electric eels are actually a type of fish — not an eel — that can generate a charge up to 600 volts. They generate this electrical charge so they can attack their prey and keep predators away. Some depictions of these fish show them in the ocean, but electric eels actually live in the freshwaters of the Amazon. Because they have poor eyesight, electric eels can emit a low-level electrical charge (roughly around 10 volts) to navigate murky waters and locate their prey.

•     Elephantnose fish
The name of this fish is a bit deceiving, as the Peters’ elephantnose fish doesn’t actually have a nose like an elephant. The organ that protrudes from this fish’s face is actually an elongated chin and it’s this chin that puts the Peters’ elephantnose fish on this list. Living in the rivers of Africa, the elephantnose fish’s chin is covered with sensors called electroreceptors that can detect electric fields. Like the electric eel, the elephantnose fish has poor eyesight and uses the charges to navigate its surroundings. The elephantnose fish does this by generating a weak electrical field through muscle contractions to find food and navigate its habitat.

•     Oriental hornet
Switching from the water to the land, a hornet may be one of the last creatures expected to hold an electric potential. But the Oriental hornet is distinctive in the fact that it can transform solar energy into electricity. Specifically, the colors the Oriental hornet displays aren’t just a thing of beauty; they are an evolutionary trait. The brown coloring on its exoskeleton allows it to absorb sunlight and the yellow stripe on the exoskeleton then turns that energy into electric potential. Currently, there isn’t an exact reason how this helps Oriental hornets; they don’t use it to maneuver around their habitat like eels and elephantnose fish do. Rather, it has been suggested by some that the hornets use this potential as a bout of energy to help when digging.

•     Platypus
Shocked to see this egg-laying mammal on this list of creatures that have electrical potential? As one of nature’s most bizarre creatures, of course it is included on this list! Like the elephantnose fish, the platypus has electroreceptors in its bill. There aren’t just a few electroreceptors on the platypus’s bill either; there are almost 40,000 sensors. Like other creatures on this list, platypuses use their sensors to find their prey. Digging for food in streams is when these sensors go to work. The electroreceptors detect electrical currents that the platypus’s prey gives off from muscle contractions. The platypus isn’t the only mammal that has electroreceptors; other monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and even dolphins do.

In childhood, dragging sock-clad feet across the floor to shock a sibling was one of the coolest (and albeit a bit mean) tricks. Humans don’t have electroreceptors or an electric charge to help in life, but these creatures do. As superheroes can possess the power of electricity, it shouldn't be too shocking to discover real life creatures can too.

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