Leaping eels electrify threats, supporting Humboldt's account of a battle with horses.
ABSTRACT: In March 1800, Alexander von Humboldt observed the extraordinary spectacle of native fisherman collecting electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) by "fishing with horses" [von Humboldt A (1807) Ann Phys 25:34-43]. The strategy was to herd horses into a pool containing electric eels, provoking the eels to attack by pressing themselves against the horses while discharging. Once the eels were exhausted, they could be safely collected. This legendary tale of South American adventures helped propel Humboldt to fame and has been recounted and illustrated in many publications, but subsequent investigators have been skeptical, and no similar eel behavior has been reported in more than 200 years. Here I report a defensive eel behavior that supports Humboldt's account. The behavior consists of an approach and leap out of the water during which the eel presses its chin against a threatening conductor while discharging high-voltage volleys. The effect is to short-circuit the electric organ through the threat, with increasing power diverted to the threat as the eel attains greater height during the leap. Measurement of voltages and current during the behavior, and assessment of the equivalent circuit, reveal the effectiveness of the behavior and the basis for its natural selection.
Project description:When approached by a large, partially submerged conductor, electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) will often defend themselves by leaping from the water to directly shock the threat. Presumably, the conductor is interpreted as an approaching terrestrial or semiaquatic animal. In the course of this defensive behavior, eels first make direct contact with their lower jaw and then rapidly emerge from the water, ascending the conductor while discharging high-voltage volleys. In this study, the equivalent circuit that develops during this behavior was proposed and investigated. First, the electromotive force and internal resistance of four electric eels were determined. These values were then used to estimate the resistance of the water volume between the eel and the conductor by making direct measurements of current with the eel and water in the circuit. The resistance of the return path from the eel's lower jaw to the main body of water was then determined, based on voltage recordings, for each electric eel at the height of the defensive leap. Finally, the addition of a hypothetical target for the leaping defense was considered as part of the circuit. The results suggest the defensive behavior efficiently directs electrical current through the threat, producing an aversive and deterring experience by activating afferents in potential predators.
Project description:Catadromous fishes migrate between ocean and freshwater during particular phases of their life cycle. The dramatic environmental changes shape their physiological features, e.g. visual sensitivity, olfactory ability, and salinity tolerance. Anguilla marmorata, a catadromous eel, migrates upstream on dark nights, following the lunar cycle. Such behavior may be correlated with ontogenetic changes in sensory systems. Therefore, this study was designed to identify changes in spectral sensitivity and opsin gene expression of A. marmorata during upstream migration. Microspectrophotometry analysis revealed that the tropical eel possesses a duplex retina with rod and cone photoreceptors. The ?max of rod cells are 493, 489, and 489 nm in glass, yellow, and wild eels, while those of cone cells are 508, and 517 nm in yellow, and wild eels, respectively. Unlike European and American eels, Asian eels exhibited a blue-shifted pattern of rod photoreceptors during upstream migration. Quantitative gene expression analyses of four cloned opsin genes (Rh1f, Rh1d, Rh2, and SWS2) revealed that Rh1f expression is dominant at all three stages, while Rh1d is expressed only in older yellow eel. Furthermore, sequence comparison and protein modeling studies implied that a blue shift in Rh1d opsin may be induced by two known (N83, S292) and four putative (S124, V189, V286, I290) tuning sites adjacent to the retinal binding sites. Finally, expression of blue-shifted Rh1d opsin resulted in a spectral shift in rod photoreceptors. Our observations indicate that the giant mottled eel is color-blind, and its blue-shifted scotopic vision may influence its upstream migration behavior and habitat choice.
Project description:Electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) are legendary for their ability to incapacitate fish, humans, and horses with hundreds of volts of electricity. The function of this output as a weapon has been obvious for centuries but its potential role for electroreception has been overlooked. Here it is shown that electric eels use high-voltage simultaneously as a weapon and for precise and rapid electrolocation of fast-moving prey and conductors. Their speed, accuracy, and high-frequency pulse rate are reminiscent of bats using a 'terminal feeding buzz' to track insects. Eel's exhibit 'sensory conflict' when mechanosensory and electrosensory cues are separated, striking first toward mechanosensory cues and later toward conductors. Strikes initiated in the absence of conductors are aborted. In addition to providing new insights into the evolution of strongly electric fish and showing electric eels to be far more sophisticated than previously described, these findings reveal a trait with markedly dichotomous functions.
Project description:Short-time tracking (one to eight days) of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) using ultrasonic transmitter was performed in the tropical-subtropical area adjacent to the spawning area and temperate area off the Japanese Archipelago. Of 16 eels (11 wild and five farmed) used, 10 wild eels displayed clear diel vertical migration (DVM) from the beginning, while the other five farmed eels tracked for 19 to 66 hours did not. During daytime, a significantly positive correlation between migration depth and light intensity recorded on the vessel was observed in the 10 wild eels, indicating that the eels were sensitive to sunlight even at the middle to lower mesopelagic zone (500 to 800 m). During nighttime, the eel migration depth was observed to be associated with the phase, rising and setting of the moon, indicating that the eels were sensitive to moonlight at the upper mesopelagic zone (<300 m). Two of 10 wild eels were in the yellow stage but shared similar DVM with the silver stage eels. Swimbladders of three silver stage eels were punctured before releasing, but very little effect on DVM was observed. The eels very punctually initiated descent upon nautical dawn and ascent upon sunset, enabling us to determine local times for sunrise and sunset, and hence this behavior may be used for geolocating eels. In fact, estimated positions of eels based on the depth trajectory data were comparable or even better than those obtained by light-based archival tag in other fish species.
Project description:The geographical distributions of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) and Giant-mottled eel (A. marmorata) overlap in many regions in East Asia and therefore suffer from interspecific competition in the same rivers. After a long period of adaptation, the Japanese eel and Giant-mottled eel may exhibit habitat partitioning in the rivers to diminish the interspecific competition between them. In this study, we conducted a field investigation in the Fengshan River in Taiwan to survey the habitat distributions of the Japanese eel and Giant-mottled eel throughout a river. Moreover, we investigated whether their habitat distributions are related to their swimming and upstream migration. Thus, the mRNA expression levels of several candidate genes that may be associated with the swimming and upstream migration of eel were examined in the glass eels of the Japanese eel and Giant-mottled eel. Field investigation indicated that the Japanese eel mainly inhabited the lower and middle reaches of the Fengshan River, but the Giant- mottled eel was distributed over the middle to upper reaches. The mRNA expression levels of fMYH, dio2, gria3, and neurod1 were higher in the Giant-mottled eel than in the Japanese eel, implying that Giant- mottled eels might have better swimming bursts and more active upstream migration than Japanese eels. These results suggest that there is a habitat partition at which these two eel species coexist in a river, and their habitat distributions may be linked to their swimming bursts and upstream migration. Determining the habitat distributions of freshwater eels is important for developing applicable plans for eel conservation and resource management.
Project description:In an attempt to document the migratory pathways and the environmental conditions encountered by American eels during their oceanic migration to the Sargasso Sea, we tagged eight silver eels with miniature satellite pop-up tags during their migration from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, Canada. Surprisingly, of the seven tags that successfully transmitted archived data, six were ingested by warm-gutted predators, as observed by a sudden increase in water temperature. Gut temperatures were in the range of 20 to 25°C-too cold for marine mammals but within the range of endothermic fish. In order to identify the eel predators, we compared their vertical migratory behavior with those of satellite-tagged porbeagle shark and bluefin tuna, the only endothermic fishes occurring non-marginally in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We accurately distinguished between tuna and shark by using the behavioral criteria generated by comparing the diving behavior of these two species with those of our unknown predators. Depth profile characteristics of most eel predators more closely resembled those of sharks than those of tuna. During the first days following tagging, all eels remained in surface waters and did not exhibit diel vertical migrations. Three eels were eaten at this time. Two eels exhibited inverse diel vertical migrations (at surface during the day) during several days prior to predation. Four eels were eaten during daytime, whereas the two night-predation events occurred at full moon. Although tagging itself may contribute to increasing the eel's susceptibility to predation, we discuss evidence suggesting that predation of silver-stage American eels by porbeagle sharks may represent a significant source of mortality inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence and raises the possibility that eels may represent a reliable, predictable food resource for porbeagle sharks.
Project description:This study reports on the first observation of a spontaneously matured female European eel. The 43-year-old eel, together with eleven other females, resided at an aquarium house since their capture in 2002 and stocking as glass eels in 1978. In June 2019, the girth of the belly of the female increased as a sign of oocyte maturation. The specimen had an estimated gonadosomatic index (GSI) of 47, only half of the oocytes were hydrated and matured, indicating that European eels are polycyclic batch spawners. The live eels of the cohort were still in the previtellogenic phase but their eye sizes were close to that of the matured eel. We hypothesize that substances released by other maturing and spawning fishes may have triggered puberty of the eel. This first observation, and the possibility of more eels maturing in the near future, provides a natural reference for the sexual maturation of the European eel.
Project description:Migratory restlessness refers to a type of locomotor activity observed just before the onset of a migration. This behavior is primarily known in birds, where it is considered to be an indicator of the urge for migration. In contrast, little is known about migratory restlessness in fishes. To confirm migratory restlessness in a fish, we measured the locomotor activity of the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica during its migration season. Migratory-phase silver eels showed higher locomotor activity in aquaria than yellow eels at the non-migratiory growth-phase. Silver eels stayed outside of their shelters for longer durations in dark periods than yellow eels and were active even in light periods when yellow eels were inactive in the shelters. Silver eels had higher levels of the androgen hormone 11-ketotestosterone at the end of experiment than yellow eels. Administration of 11-ketotesosterone to yellow eels induced higher levels of locomotor activity than that observed in non-treated controls. These findings suggest that anguillid eels exhibit migratory restlessness just before their spawning migration and that 11-ketotestosterone may be involved in the onset of this behavior.
Project description:The migration route and the spawning site of the European eel Anguilla anguilla are still uncertain. It has been suggested that the Mediterranean eel stock does not contribute to spawning because there is no evidence of eels leaving the Mediterranean Sea. To test this hypothesis, we equipped eight female silver eels from the south of France with pop-up satellite tags during escapement from coastal waters. Once in deeper water, the eels quickly established diel vertical migration (DVM) between the upper and lower mesopelagic zone. Five tagged eels were taken by predators within the Mediterranean, but two eels reached the Atlantic Ocean after six months and at distances greater than 2000?km from release. These eels ceased their DVM while they negotiated the Gibraltar Strait, and remained in deep water until they reached the Atlantic Ocean, when they recommenced DVM. Our results are the first to show that eels from Mediterranean can cross the Strait of Gibraltar and continue their migration into the Atlantic Ocean. This finding suggests that Mediterranean countries, as for other EU states, have an important role to play in contributing to conservation efforts for the recovery of the European eel stock.
Project description:The two North Atlantic eel species, the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), spawn in partial sympatry in the Sargasso Sea, providing ample opportunity to interbreed. In this study, we used a RAD (Restriction site Associated DNA) sequencing approach to identify species-specific diagnostic single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and design a low-density array that combined with screening of a diagnostic mitochondrial DNA marker. Eels from Iceland (N=159) and from the neighboring Faroe Islands (N=29) were genotyped, along with 94 larvae (49 European and 45 American eel) collected in the Sargasso Sea. Our SNP survey showed that the majority of Icelandic eels are pure European eels but there is also an important contribution of individuals of admixed ancestry (10.7%). Although most of the hybrids were identified as F1 hybrids from European eel female × American eel male crosses, backcrosses were also detected, including a first-generation backcross (F1 hybrid × pure European eel) and three individuals identified as second-generation backcrosses originating from American eel × F1 hybrid backcrosses interbreeding with pure European eels. In comparison, no hybrids were observed in the Faroe Islands, the closest bodies of land to Iceland. It is possible that hybrids show an intermediate migratory behaviour between the two parental species that ultimately brings hybrid larvae to the shores of Iceland, situated roughly halfway between the Sargasso Sea and Europe. Only two hybrids were observed among Sargasso Sea larvae, both backcrosses, but no F1 hybrids, that points to temporal variation in the occurrence of hybridization.