How to power your Christmas tree with an electric eel

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Warning: don’t try this at home.

As the holiday season gets into full swing, you may be looking for ways to make your celebrations a little “greener.” Sure, you could do the usual eco-friendly festivities: use LED lights, have a real tree grown on a sustainable tree farm that you will recycle after the holidays, and re-gift those presents you didn’t want (hey, it’s almost the same as recycling…), but if you really want to be an winter eco-warrior, I have just five words for you: Electric Eel-Powered Christmas tree/Hanukkah Menorah/Kwanzaa Kinara (it’s still sort of five words – go with it).

The electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, is in fact a fish, not a true eel, but it is quite electric. Three abdominal organs, the Main organ, Hunters organ, and Sachs organ, take up approximately 80% of the animal’s body and work something like batteries connected in a series. The organs are made of electrolytes, or electric cells, lined up so that an electric current can flow through them and produce an electrical charge. These organs give the electric eel the ability to generate both low and high voltage electric discharges that can stun and even kill other organisms. While the primary purposes of electric eel discharges are for echolocation and communication (weak discharges) and predation and defense (strong discharges), their ability to power holiday decorations may open up a whole new niche for these animals.

It’s pretty simple:

  1. Take one electric eel (they may be hard to find – it helps if you live in northeastern South America, where they’re found)
  2. Install one end of a conductive copper wire in the eel’s tank
  3. Connect the other end of the conductive copper wire to a Christmas tree/Hanukah Menorah/Kwanza Kinara already wired for electricity
  4. Wait for the eel to brush against the copper wire, send the electrical discharge up the wire, and light up your holiday decorations

While this may sound like science fiction, its fact and it’s happening in Japan at the Enoshima Aquarium. Since almost every neat new electronic gadget from Japan eventually becomes popular here, I say let’s jump on the eel bandwagon now.

Check out this video:

“Rockin’ around the [eel-lit] Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop…”

December 2009

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