The stamping and snorting of horses in the shallow waters favored by electric eels caused the latter to leap up and stun the horses with a series of high-voltage electric discharges as a defense mechanism.
Catania believes the response kicks in under certain conditions, such as when eels are stranded in small bodies of water with the sudden arrival of the dry season.
That was the year de Santana published a paper effectively tripling the number of known species of electric eels.De Santana and his co-authors first noticed the unusual group-hunting behavior on a 2012 field expedition to explore the diversity of fish of the Iriri River, when team member (and co-author) Douglas Bastos found a small lake packed with over 100 electric eels.
Then the eels spit into smaller hunting parties of about 10 eels, surrounding the ball of tetras and stunning the small fish with synchronized high-voltage discharges."This is the only location where this behavior has been observed, but right now we think the eels probably show up every year," said de Santana.
"Our initial hypothesis is that this is a relatively rare event that occurs only in places with lots of prey and enough shelter for large numbers of adult eels." If the behavior were commonplace, he reasoned, it would have come up in their interviews with the locals.De Santana and his team will continue their investigation of this unusual behavior; they are hoping to make direct measurements of the synchronized discharges on their next expedition.
The team will also collect eight to 10 adult eels and bring them to a lab in Germany to better study them under more controlled settings.
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