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Electric Eels Wield a Functional Venom Analogue

Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, VU Station B, P.O. Box 35-1634, Nashville, TN 37235, USA
Received: 28 November 2020 / Revised: 30 December 2020 / Accepted: 7 January 2021 / Published: 10 January 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of Venom)
In this paper, I draw an analogy between the use of electricity by electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) to paralyze prey muscles and the use of venoms that paralyze prey by disrupting the neuromuscular junction. The eel’s strategy depends on the recently discovered ability of eels to activate prey motor neuron efferents with high-voltage pulses. Usually, eels use high voltage to cause brief, whole-body tetanus, thus preventing escape while swallowing prey whole. However, when eels struggle with large prey, or with prey held precariously, they often curl to bring their tail to the opposite side. This more than doubles the strength of the electric field within shocked prey, ensuring maximal stimulation of motor neuron efferents. Eels then deliver repeated volleys of high-voltage pulses at a rate of approximately 100 Hz. This causes muscle fatigue that attenuates prey movement, thus preventing both escape and defense while the eel manipulates and swallows the helpless animal. Presumably, the evolution of enough electrical power to remotely activate ion channels in prey efferents sets the stage for the selection of eel behaviors that functionally “poison” prey muscles. View Full-Text
Keywords: muscle; efferent; venom; electrical; electric organ; prey; predator; evolution; escape muscle; efferent; venom; electrical; electric organ; prey; predator; evolution; escape
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MDPI and ACS Style

Catania, K.C. Electric Eels Wield a Functional Venom Analogue. Toxins 2021, 13, 48.

AMA Style

Catania KC. Electric Eels Wield a Functional Venom Analogue. Toxins. 2021; 13(1):48.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Catania, Kenneth C. 2021. "Electric Eels Wield a Functional Venom Analogue" Toxins 13, no. 1: 48.

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