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Electric fish

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An electric fish is a fish that can generate electric fields. It is said to be electrogenic; a fish that has the ability to detect electric fields is said to be electroreceptive. Most fish that are electrogenic are also electroreceptive. Electric fish species can be found both in the sea and in freshwater rivers of South America and Africa. Many fishes such as sharks, rays and catfishes can detect electric fields, and are thus electroreceptive, but as they cannot generate an electric field they are not classified as electric fish. Most common bony fish (teleosts), including most fish that kept in aquaria or caught for food, are neither electrogenic nor electroreceptive.


Strongly and weakly electric fish

Electric fish produce their electric fields from a specialized structure called an electric organ. This is made up of modified muscle or nerve cells, which became specialized for producing electric fields. Typically this organ is located in the tail of the electric fish. The electrcial output of the organ is called the electric organ discharge (EOD).

Fish that have an EOD that is powerful enough to stun their prey are called strongly electric fish. The amplitude of the signal can range from 10 to 500 volts with a current of up to 1 ampere. Typical examples are the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus; not a true eel but a knifefish), the electric catfishes (family Malapteruridae), and electric rays (order Torpediniformes).

By contrast, weakly electric fish generate a discharge that is typically less than one volt in amplitude. These are too weak to stun prey, but are used for navigation, object detection (electrolocation) and communication with other electric fish (electrocommunication). Some of the best known and most studied examples are Peters' elephantnose fish (Gnathonemus petersi) and the black ghost knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons).

The EOD waveform takes two general forms depending on the species. In some species the waveform is continuous and almost sinusoidal (for example the genera Apteronotus, Eigenmannia and Gymnarchus) and these are said to have a wave-type EOD. In other species, the EOD waveform consists of brief pulses separated by longer gaps (for example Gnathonemus, Gymnotus, Raja) and these are said to have a pulse-type EOD.

Table of electric fish

This is a table of all known electric fish species within fresh water. In salt water there is only one order, the Torpediniformes (electric rays), inside the chondrichthyes that shows species generating even strong electric pulses (genus Torpedo spp., which counts 22 known species).

Taxon Species (348)

(46 species in 13 genera)

Adontosternarchus balaenops, Adontosternarchus clarkae, Adontosternarchus devenanzii, Adontosternarchus sachsi, Apteronotus albifrons, Apteronotus apurensis, Apteronotus bonapspeciesii, Apteronotus brasiliensis, Apteronotus caudimaculosus, Apteronotus cuchillejo, Apteronotus cuchillo, Apteronotus ellisi, Apteronotus eschmeyeri, Apteronotus jurubidae, Apteronotus leptorhynchus, Apteronotus macrolepis, Apteronotus macrostomus, Apteronotus magdalenensis, Apteronotus marauna, Apteronotus mariae, Apteronotus rostratus, Apteronotus spurrellii, Compsaraia compsa, Magosternarchus duccis, Magosternarchus raptor, Megadontognathus cuyuniense, Megadontognathus kaitukaensis, Orthosternarchus tamandua, Parapteronotus hasemani, Platyurosternarchus macrostomus, Porotergus gimbeli, Porotergus gymnotus, Sternarchella curvioperculata, Sternarchella orthos, Sternarchella schotti, Sternarchella sima, Sternarchella terminalis, Sternarchogiton nattereri, Sternarchogiton porcinum, Sternarchorhamphus muelleri, Sternarchorhynchus britskii, Sternarchorhynchus curvirostris, Sternarchorhynchus mesensis, Sternarchorhynchus mormyrus, Sternarchorhynchus oxyrhynchus, Sternarchorhynchus roseni

(29 species in 1 genus)

Gymnotus anguillaris, Gymnotus arapaima, Gymnotus ardilai, Gymnotus bahianus, Gymnotus carapo, Gymnotus cataniapo, Gymnotus choco, Gymnotus coatesi, Gymnotus coropinae, Gymnotus cylindricus, Gymnotus diamantinensis, Gymnotus esmeraldas, Gymnotus henni, Gymnotus inaequilabiatus, Gymnotus javari, Gymnotus jonasi, Gymnotus maculosus, Gymnotus mamiraua, Gymnotus melanopleura, Gymnotus onca, Gymnotus panamensis, Gymnotus pantanal, Gymnotus pantherinus, Gymnotus paraguensis, Gymnotus pedanopterus, Gymnotus stenoleucus, Gymnotus sylvius, Gymnotus tigre, Gymnotus ucamara

(1 species in 1 genus)

Electrophorus electricus

(14 species in 7 genera)

Brachyhypopomus beebei, Brachyhypopomus brevirostris, Brachyhypopomus diazi, Brachyhypopomus janeiroensis, Brachyhypopomus occidentalis, Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus, Hypopomus speciesedi, Hypopygus lepturus, Hypopygus neblinae, Microsternarchus bilineatus, Racenisia fimbriipinna, Steatogenys duidae, Steatogenys elegans, Stegostenopos cryptogenes

(15 species in 3 genera)

Gymnorhamphichthys hypostomus, Gymnorhamphichthys petiti, Gymnorhamphichthys rondoni, Gymnorhamphichthys rosamariae, Iracema caiana, Rhamphichthys apurensis, Rhamphichthys atlanticus, Rhamphichthys drepanium, Rhamphichthys hahni, Rhamphichthys lineatus, Rhamphichthys longior, Rhamphichthys marmoratus, Rhamphichthys pantherinus, Rhamphichthys rostratus, Rhamphichthys schomburgki

(28 species in 5 genera)

Archolaemus blax, Distocyclus conirostris, Distocyclus goajira, Eigenmannia humboldtii, Eigenmannia limbata, Eigenmannia macrops, Eigenmannia microstoma, Eigenmannia nigra, Eigenmannia trilineata, Eigenmannia vicentespelaea, Eigenmannia virescens, Rhabdolichops caviceps, Rhabdolichops eastwardi, Rhabdolichops electrogrammus, Rhabdolichops jegui, Rhabdolichops stewspeciesi, Rhabdolichops troscheli, Rhabdolichops zareti, Sternopygus aequilabiatus, Sternopygus arenatus, Sternopygus astrabes, Sternopygus branco, Sternopygus castroi, Sternopygus dariensis, Sternopygus macrurus, Sternopygus obtusirostris, Sternopygus pejeraton, Sternopygus xingu

(1 species in 1 genus)

Gymnarchus niloticus

(203 species in 18 genera)

Boulengeromyrus knoepffleri, Brienomyrus adustus, Brienomyrus brachyistius, Brienomyrus curvifrons, Brienomyrus hopkinsi, Brienomyrus kingsleyae eburneensis, Brienomyrus kingsleyae kingsleyae, Brienomyrus longianalis, Brienomyrus longicaudatus, Brienomyrus niger, Brienomyrus sphekodes, Brienomyrus tavernei, Campylomormyrus alces, Campylomormyrus bredoi, Campylomormyrus cassaicus, Campylomormyrus christyi, Campylomormyrus curvirostris, Campylomormyrus elephas, Campylomormyrus luapulaensis, Campylomormyrus mirus, Campylomormyrus numenius, Campylomormyrus orycteropus, Campylomormyrus phantasticus, Campylomormyrus rhynchophorus, Campylomormyrus tamandua, Campylomormyrus tshokwe, Genyomyrus donnyi, Gnathonemus barbatus, Gnathonemus echidnorhynchus, Gnathonemus longibarbis, Gnathonemus petersii, Heteromormyrus pauciradiatus, Hippopotamyrus aelsbroecki, Hippopotamyrus ansorgii, Hippopotamyrus batesii, Hippopotamyrus castor, Hippopotamyrus discorhynchus, Hippopotamyrus grahami, Hippopotamyrus harringtoni, Hippopotamyrus macrops, Hippopotamyrus macroterops, Hippopotamyrus pappenheimi, Hippopotamyrus paugyi, Hippopotamyrus pictus, Hippopotamyrus psittacus, Hippopotamyrus retrodorsalis, Hippopotamyrus smithersi, Hippopotamyrus szaboi, Hippopotamyrus weeksii, Hippopotamyrus wilverthi, Hyperopisus bebe bebe, Hyperopisus bebe occidentalis, Isichthys henryi, Ivindomyrus opdenboschi, Marcusenius rhodesianus, Marcusenius sanagaensis, Marcusenius schilthuisiae, Marcusenius senegalensis gracilis, Marcusenius senegalensis pfaffi, Marcusenius senegalensis senegalensis, Marcusenius stanleyanus, Marcusenius thomasi, Marcusenius ussheri, Marcusenius victoriae, Marcusenius abadii, Marcusenius annamariae, Marcusenius bentleyi, Marcusenius brucii, Marcusenius cuangoanus, Marcusenius cyprinoides, Marcusenius deboensis, Marcusenius dundoensis, Marcusenius friteli, Marcusenius furcidens, Marcusenius fuscus, Marcusenius ghesquierei, Marcusenius greshoffii, Marcusenius intermedius, Marcusenius kutuensis, Marcusenius leopoldianus, Marcusenius livingstonii, Marcusenius macrolepidotus angolensis, Marcusenius macrolepidotus macrolepidotus, Marcusenius macrophthalmus, Marcusenius mento, Marcusenius meronai, Marcusenius monteiri, Marcusenius moorii, Marcusenius ntemensis, Marcusenius nyasensis, Marcusenius rheni, Mormyrops anguilloides, Mormyrops attenuatus, Mormyrops batesianus, Mormyrops breviceps, Mormyrops caballus, Mormyrops citernii, Mormyrops curtus, Mormyrops curviceps, Mormyrops engystoma, Mormyrops furcidens, Mormyrops intermedius, Mormyrops lineolatus, Mormyrops mariae, Mormyrops masuianus, Mormyrops microstoma, Mormyrops nigricans, Mormyrops oudoti, Mormyrops parvus, Mormyrops sirenoides, Mormyrus bernhardi, Mormyrus caballus asinus, Mormyrus caballus bumbanus, Mormyrus caballus caballus, Mormyrus caballus lualabae, Mormyrus casalis, Mormyrus caschive, Mormyrus cyaneus, Mormyrus felixi, Mormyrus goheeni, Mormyrus hasselquistii, Mormyrus iriodes, Mormyrus kannume, Mormyrus lacerda, Mormyrus longirostris, Mormyrus macrocephalus, Mormyrus macrophthalmus, Mormyrus niloticus, Mormyrus ovis, Mormyrus rume proboscirostris, Mormyrus rume rume, Mormyrus subundulatus, Mormyrus tapirus, Mormyrus tenuirostris, Mormyrus thomasi, Myomyrus macrodon, Myomyrus macrops, Myomyrus pharao, Oxymormyrus boulengeri, Oxymormyrus zanclirostris, Paramormyrops gabonensis, Paramormyrops jacksoni, Petrocephalus ansorgii, Petrocephalus balayi, Petrocephalus bane bane, Petrocephalus bane comoensis, Petrocephalus binotatus, Petrocephalus bovei bovei, Petrocephalus bovei guineensis, Petrocephalus catostoma catostoma, Petrocephalus catostoma congicus, Petrocephalus catostoma haullevillei, Petrocephalus catostoma tanensis, Petrocephalus christyi, Petrocephalus cunganus, Petrocephalus gliroides, Petrocephalus grandoculis, Petrocephalus guttatus, Petrocephalus hutereaui, Petrocephalus keatingii, Petrocephalus levequei, Petrocephalus microphthalmus, Petrocephalus pallidomaculatus, Petrocephalus pellegrini, Petrocephalus sauvagii, Petrocephalus schoutedeni, Petrocephalus simus, Petrocephalus soudanensis, Petrocephalus squalostoma, Petrocephalus sullivani, Petrocephalus tenuicauda, Petrocephalus wesselsi, Pollimyrus adspersus, Pollimyrus brevis, Pollimyrus castelnaui, Pollimyrus isidori fasciaticeps, Pollimyrus isidori isidori, Pollimyrus isidori osborni, Pollimyrus maculipinnis, Pollimyrus marchei, Pollimyrus nigricans, Pollimyrus nigripinnis, Pollimyrus pedunculatus, Pollimyrus petherici, Pollimyrus petricolus, Pollimyrus plagiostoma, Pollimyrus pulverulentus, Pollimyrus schreyeni, Pollimyrus stappersii kapangae, Pollimyrus stappersii stappersii, Pollimyrus tumifrons, Stomatorhinus ater, Stomatorhinus corneti, Stomatorhinus fuliginosus, Stomatorhinus humilior, Stomatorhinus kununguensis, Stomatorhinus microps, Stomatorhinus patrizii, Stomatorhinus polli, Stomatorhinus polylepis, Stomatorhinus puncticulatus, Stomatorhinus schoutedeni, Stomatorhinus walkeri

(11 species in 1 genus)

Malapterurus beninensis, Malapterurus cavalliensis, Malapterurus electricus, Malapterurus leonensis, Malapterurus microstoma, Malapterurus minjiriya, Malapterurus monsembeensis, Malapterurus oguensis, Malapterurus shirensis, Malapterurus tanganyikaensis, Malapterurus tanoensis


  • Bullock TH, Heiligenberg W (eds) (1986) Electroreception. Wiley, 722 pp.
  • Heiligenberg W (1991) Neural nets in electric fish. MIT Press, 179 pp.
  • Moller P (1995) Electric Fishes: History and Behavior. Chapman & Hall, 583 pp.

External links

  • Electric Fish, Mark E. Nelson, Beckman Institute Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Accessed 11/2006, [1]

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