electric eel lighting up a Christmas tree
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Credit: Tennessee Aquarium

Shock around the Christmas tree with an electric eel that powers holiday lights

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Dec 12, 2019, 10:15 PM EST (Updated)

This is one of those things you might be less likely to believe than Kevin staging a lavish fake Christmas party to drive away his stalkers in Home Alone — but rockin’ around the Christmas tree has just leveled up to shockin’.

Miguel Wattson (see what they did there?), the Tennessee Aquarium’s resident electric eel, who even has his own Twitter, can now use his voltage to illuminate a Christmas tree. Some really ingenious elves hooked up a special system to Miguel’s tank so he can work some holiday magic. His shocks can turn on a rainbow of lights decking out the tree standing right next to it, which is why this program is called, appropriately enough, “Shocking Around the Christmas Tree.”

“Whenever Miguel discharges electricity, sensors in the water deliver the charge to a set of speakers,” said the Aquarium’s audio visual production specialist, Joey Turnipseed. “The speakers convert the discharge into the sound you hear and the festively flashing lights.”

Another shock is that electric eels are actually not true eels, but a type of knifefish, and share more DNA with carp than legit eels. They also breathe air and have to surface every so often to get a gulp of oxygen. If you don’t want to get accidentally buzzed by these fish and possibly end up in the ER, avoid dipping your feet in the murky waters of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers where they lurk.

It was Turnipseed who figured out how Miguel’s electric pulses could get the holidays more lit. Adults of the species have terrible eyesight and usually release about 10 volts of electricity at rest and when seeking out prey, but they can generate up to 850 volts for getting back at predators. The electricity is only discharged at one amp but is still enough to shock or at least stun anything that wants to sink its teeth into this fish. They are also capable of rapid-fire zaps, which are great for freaking out whoever wanders by that Christmas tree.

“The rapid, dim blinking of the lights is caused by the constant, low-voltage blips of electricity he releases when he’s trying to find food,” Aquarist Kimberly Hurt explained. “The bigger flashes are caused by the higher-voltage shocks he emits when he’s eating or excited.”

Rockefeller Center can move over, because this might be the most (literally) electrifying tree lighting ever.

(via Tennessee Aquarium)

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