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Today, “Tesla,” a 17-year-old electric eel from Peru, was immobilized so that the Animal Health team could surgically remove several growths that had developed over the past several weeks. Because an electric eel can generate up to 800 volts of electricity, this patient had to be very carefully handled!
After using specific drugs that were diluted in water within a transport container, zoo staff, using special rubber insulated gloves and nets, transferred the eel into the container and waited for the anesthesia to take effect while being transferred to the zoo’s animal hospital. Once it was determined to be fully anesthetized, it was removed from the container so it could be weighed and X-rayed.
The eel was then placed on an exam table where Associate Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Marisa Bezjian, working in conjunction with the Animal Health and Animal Science teams, surgically removed several growths on the eel’s body. Cultures and biopsies were taken of the growths to determine what they may be. The results of those tests won’t be known for several weeks.
While the eel was anesthetized, blood was also collected and an ultrasound exam was done. Other than the growths, the eel appeared to be in generally good health for its advanced age. The growths were successfully removed and the eel appears to be recovering well in a holding facility in the “Amazon and Beyond” area of the zoo.
Electric eels are not actually eels but rather are more closely related to knife fish. They are widely distributed in a variety of freshwater habitats in northern South America. In addition to having gills, they will periodically surface to breathe air with their mouths which enables them to live in very poorly oxygenated water. They are basically carnivores that feed on a variety of fish and crustaceans. In addition to defense, they use their ability to emit strong electric shocks to immobilize their prey. The organs responsible for producing that electricity make up approximately 80% of the animal’s body, with all of its other organs located in the front 20% next to the head. They have a lifespan of 10-15 years for males and 12-22 years for females.