A Fluke digital handheld oscilloscope was hauled around the Amazon to measure electric eels. That meter took the measurement that broke a Guinness World Record for most electric animal and was used to help prove that the electric eel has three distinct species. Professor Crampton, Professor of Zoology at the University of Central Florida, used a Fluke 190-202 ScopeMeter® to break the world record by measuring the voltage of one of those newly discovered electric eel species.Photo courtesy of Professor Will Crampton
Originally thought to be one species, Crampton and a group of scientists proved there are at least three electric eel species:
- Electrophorus varii
- Electrophorus electricus
- Electrophorus voltai
Each is native to a separate region of the Amazon. The record-breaking electric eel was a 1.21m E. voltai that put out 860 V.
Capturing the Voltage Readings
Crampton developed a successful method to measure and record the voltage output of these animals. He sets his Fluke 124B Oscilloscope up for differential voltage and uses triggered acquisition to capture the short pulses of electricity from the eel. To get an accurate reading, Crampton must make sure the eel is removed from the load of the water, placed on a non-conductive tarp and calm.
The Guyana Expedition
Shortly after breaking the world record for the most electric animal, Crampton was invited to break the record again on an episode of British Broadcasting Company’s (BBC) Animal Impossible. Crampton and the crew traveled to Guyana on a 9-day expedition to find and measure more electric eels.
Fluke provided Crampton with a new ScopeMeter for use on this expedition. “First of all, they’re extremely accurate. And secondly, they’re exceptionally rugged. It’s really important that all of my equipment is field rugged. And the Fluke meters are really well designed for that.” He said he chooses equipment that can survive the journey and the high humidity of the rainforest.
Crampton and his team were able to record 700+V measurements from two E. electricus eels (1.30 and 1.35 meters). While neither topped the world record set by E. voltai, both would have broken the previous highest measurement of E. electricus, which was about 650V.
From being the inspiration for the first batteries to future medical advancements, it’s no wonder that scientists like Crampton have been fascinated by electric eels for more than 250 years. There are already electric eel organs being used as models for synthetic bio-batteries. Future applications of this research include powering medical devices, like pacemakers. Crampton says it could even lead to using human cells to “generate sizeable electric fields, external electric fields, which could be used as everlasting batteries.”
Crampton, who started working with electric fish while preparing for his PhD. He intends to continue working with them and using his Fluke meter to take readings of any electric fish, including electric eels, he comes across. Crampton says the research on electric eels needs to continue, “I think we need to drastically increase the numbers involved. It’s reasonable to suppose that what once was one species is likely, maybe, up to half a dozen species.”