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Can An Electric Eel Kill A Human

Can An Electric Eel Kill A Human? How Dangerous Are They?

Electric eels are creatures known for their unique ability to generate electric shocks. These shocks are used for hunting, navigation, and self-defense. 

However, with their unique and almost dangerous abilities, one can’t help but wonder, can an electric ell kill a human?

How dangerous can a shock from an electric eel be to a human? If you are looking for answers to such a question, you are in the right place. 

Later, we’ll discuss the potential danger posed by electric eels and shed light on whether they can be lethal to humans. But before we get any deeper, let’s first answer the question,

Can An Electric Eel Kill A Human?

While it is rare, cases of deaths have been reported due to electric eel shock. So, yes, an electric eel can kill you. An adult electric eel can produce up to 600 volts, more than enough to kill you. 

There have been incidents where people have drowned in shallow water after being shocked by an electric eel. An electric shock from an eel can incapacitate you, leading to difficulty in breathing or even heart failure.

A Breakdown

Are you in a hurry? Check out this summarized table for a quick scan.




Electric eels are not actual eels; they are knifefish belonging to the Gymnotidae family.


It is found in South America’s Amazon and Orinoco river basins, primarily in slow-moving or stagnant waters.

Physical Characteristics

It can grow up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) in length. – Smooth, scaleless, dark gray or brownish skin. – Elongated, snake-like body.

Electric Organs

Specialized electric organs make up 80% of their body. – Contain thousands of electrolytes that produce electric shocks.

Electric Shocks

Voltage typically ranges from 300 to 860 volts. – Used for navigation, hunting, and communication.


Occurs during the dry season. Males build nests from saliva, where females deposit eggs.

An average of 1200 embryos were observed to hatch. – Fecundity counts documented as high as 17,000 eggs.


Predominantly carnivorous, feeding on fish and small prey.

Human Consumption

It is edible but not commonly consumed due to its bony nature and limited sustenance.

Conservation Status

Generally not a threatened species; status varies in different parts of their range.

Notable Behavior

Ability to breathe air and survive in low-oxygen water. – Nocturnal and secretive in nature.

What Is An Electric Eel?

Electric eels, also known as Electrophorus electricus, are a species of freshwater fish found in the rivers and streams of South America (Guyanas and Orinoco Rivers as well as the middle and lower Amazon basin.). 

They are typically found in slow-moving or stagnant waters, such as swamps, marshes, and creeks. They prefer areas with dense vegetation and muddy bottoms. 

Additionally, they are air breathers and get 80% of their oxygen by coming to the surface to breathe. Their breathing capabilities allow them to survive in low-oxygen environments. 

Despite their name, electric eels are not eels but rather knife fish. They are known for their ability to generate powerful electric shocks, which they use for hunting and self-defense. 

Electric eels have a long, snake-like body that can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 20 kg. They have a dark gray or brownish coloration, with a streamlined shape that allows them to move quickly through the water. 

Their body is covered in a slimy mucus layer, which helps to conduct electricity. Electric eels engage in reproductive activities during the period of dry weather. The male constructs a concealed nest using its saliva to deposit the eggs. 

Around 1200 embryos can be successfully hatched from these nests on average and go as high as 17,000 eggs.

How Do Electric Eels Produce Electricity?

Electric eels have specialized electric organs comprising about 80% of their body, consisting of thousands of electrolytes stacked together. 

When the electric eel wants to produce an electrical discharge, these electrolytes synchronize and fire simultaneously. 

The voltage of an electric eel’s shock can vary but typically ranges from 10 to 600 volts. However, in some cases, it can go as high as 860 volts. 

The power of their shock is relatively low, typically around 1 watt, but they can repeatedly discharge these shocks in quick succession. Electric eels use their electric shocks primarily for navigation and hunting. 

They emit low-voltage electric pulses to sense their surroundings, creating an electric field. 

When prey, such as small fish, is detected within this field, the electric eel can deliver a high-voltage shock to immobilize or stun the prey, making it easier to capture and prey on.

Can You Eat An Electric Eel?

Yes, you can eat an electric eel, but they are not a preferred food source for humans. Electric eels are quite bony and provide limited sustenance. 

Their flesh is not typically considered a practical or desirable choice for consumption, mainly due to the challenge of extracting meat from their bone-laden bodies. 

Local communities may occasionally consume electric eels in regions where they are found, but it is not a common or popular culinary option.

How Long Do Electric Eels Live?

The exact lifespan of electric eels in their natural habitat remains unknown. However, male electric eels typically have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years in captivity. 

On the other hand, female electric eels tend to live slightly longer, with an average lifespan between 12 and 22 years. The idea of the female gender living longer than the male gender transcends species.

Potential Dangers Of Electric Eels

While these shocks effectively disable their targets, they also pose a potential danger to humans. 

The electrical shock delivered by an electric eel can range from mild to severe, depending on the strength of the discharge, which is determined by the size of the eel. 

When an electric eel delivers a shock to a human, the current passes through the body, causing intense pain and involuntary muscle contractions. 

These muscle contractions can be so strong that they may lead to losing consciousness or drowning if the person is submerged in water. 

In more severe cases, an electric eel’s electrical shock can lead to cardiac arrest and impaired motor control. 

If you have any underlying heart conditions or a pacemaker, the electrical shock from an electric eel can exacerbate these conditions and have fatal consequences.

How Do Electric Eels Communicate?

The primary means of communication for E. electricus is the Sachs organ, which emits a low-voltage signal of approximately 10V. These signals help in communication and orientation. 

They help locate prey and are crucial in finding and selecting a suitable mate. 

Scientific research has revealed that E. electricus has a highly developed sense of sound, thanks to the presence of a Weberian apparatus. 

This specialized structure connects the ear to the swim bladder and amplifies their auditory capabilities.

Do Electric Eels Electrocute Themselves?

Electric eels, surprisingly, do end up electrocuting themselves and other eels on occasion. However, this does not prove fatal or cause significant harm. 

It’s because the shocks they produce are usually for small fish. 

The eels’ ability to survive their shocks lies in their large size and the arrangement of their organs. 

With most of their organs located towards the head and the electrical current originating from the tail, they can withstand the impact of their electric shocks.

Are There Any Other Fishes That Can Generate Electricity?

The marine electric ray, belonging to the genus Torpedo, is another fish that has the ability to generate electricity. 

Electric rays have a flat and round body shape, resembling a disc. They are typically brown or gray and have soft and smooth skin. The size of an electric ray can vary, with some species reaching lengths of up to 1.5 meters.

These fish are primarily found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, including the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean. 

They prefer shallow coastal areas, as well as estuaries and lagoons. Electric rays are typically bottom-dwellers often found in sandy or muddy substrates.


Can an electric eel kill a human? While electric eels cause rare fatalities, they can generate a significant amount of electric shock to kill a human. 

The shocks produced by these creatures are for defense, hunting, and navigation purposes. 

However, it is important to exercise caution when encountering these creatures in their natural habitat to avoid potential harm.

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