Two new species of electric eel, including one with an electrical discharge much higher than previously reported, are described in Nature Communications. The recorded discharge of 860 V from the newly identified species Electrophorus voltai makes it the strongest living bioelectricity generator to date.
The electric eel was first described 250 years ago. However, due in part to their size and specialized electricity-producing morphology, it has been assumed that electric eels comprise a single species, Electrophorus electricus, distributed throughout Greater Amazonia.
C. David de Santana and colleagues examined 107 specimens of electric eel from across Greater Amazonia to determine whether they comprise a single species. Using data on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, morphology, and geographical and ecological distributions, the authors conclude there are three common species of Eletrophorus - E. electricus, E. voltai and E. varii. Based on their analysis they suggest that the three species occupy different regions, with E. electricus found in the Guiana Shield, E. voltai in the Brazilian Shield and E. varii in the lowland Amazon basin. They also found that E. voltai can produce an electric discharge of 860 V, well above the previously cited 650 V for Electrophorus.
The authors suggest that sequencing and comparing the genomes of these species could provide insights into the origins and structures responsible for the generation of high-voltage electric discharges.