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Electric Fish Charges up Research on Animal Behavior – Science Nation

Electric Fish Charges up Research on Animal Behavior – Science Nation

MILES O’BRIEN: Like a taser, an electric
eel can generate enough current to stun its prey. These so-called weakly electric fish generate
electricity, too, but not enough to do any harm. With the proper equipment you can even hear an electric hum. ERIC FORTUNE: These fish are unique in that
they produce and detect electric fields. And they use these electric fields in social communication, and to detect
objects. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National
Science Foundation, neuroethologist, Eric Fortune, traveled to Ecuador to study the weakly electric knife fish in its
native habitat. Back at Johns Hopkins University, his research partner, mechanical engineer, Noah Cowan, and
others, are studying the knife fish in the lab. He says it uses its electric field as a sixth sense- not only to
communicate, but to navigate its surroundings, and to find its next meal. NOAH COWAN: There’s a small organ in the tail of
the weakly electric fish that generates an electric field. And then that electric field envelops the entire animal. MILES O’BRIEN: When an object passes through the
field, the fish has receptors on its skin to detect it. NOAH COWAN: There’s little voltage sensors all
over the surface of the skin. And as an object comes by, the voltage changes, and it says, Aha! Lunch. Or it says,
I’m gonna be lunch, and it runs away. MILES O’BRIEN: Each fish generates its own
unique frequency, which can change when other knife fish are near. NOAH COWAN: When the two fish come by, their two
pitches begin to interact much like two singer’s pitches would interact. And what we’ve done is really begin to
explore how multiple fish, more than two, interact. SARAH STAMPER: The fish will swim both forwards
and backwards using his ribbon fin. MILES O’BRIEN: And when the lights go out and
it’s hard for the fish to see, they seem to lean even more on their electro-sense to navigate. NOAH COWAN: When the lights are on, you move the
tube and they’re just tracking along like this. When you turn off the lights, they start sort of- almost like
they’re feeling around with their electro-sense. They start moving around back and forth. MILES O’BRIEN: The goal is to understand how the
brain of this unique animal controls its behavior. And engineers at Northwestern University are developing a
highly agile robot that may one day use a similar sixth sense to monitor the health of coral reefs or navigate the
dark, murky waters of an oil spill. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

27 comments on “Electric Fish Charges up Research on Animal Behavior – Science Nation

  1. Absolutely amazing!! I was wondering how the black ghost knives maneuvered with those electrical pulses… Wow! They are my favorite fish. I currently have 2 🖤😊

  2. Back in the early '60's I was pier fishing at Port Aransas, Texas. in the early hours of the morning. I was fishing in very shallow water for snook using a small jig for bait. I caught a very ugly fish, of steel grey color and it had a very large head. It weighed about 2 pounds, but maybe a little less. I put my hand down on it's head to keep it still while I released the hook that was just barely holding by the lip. The next thing I knew was that I was trying to get up from the deck of the pier, My arm and hand were numb, and my head was reeling like i just had something make me very dizzy. A year or so later there was an article in the Texas Game and Fish Magazine about the Midshipman causing an electric shock.

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