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Electric Knifefish Charged With Sixth Sense

Electric eels generate enough voltage to stun their prey, but they’re not the only electric creature in the water. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University believe that the so-called weakly electric knifefish uses its electric field as a sixth sense – to communicate, navigate its surroundings and hunt prey. Mechanical engineer Noah Cowan of Johns Hopkins explains that a small organ in the tail of the Ecuadorian fish generates an electric field, which then envelopes the animal.

Each fish generates its own electric frequency, which changes in pitch as other fish approach. Engineers have studied the knifefish to inform the design of underwater robots that will travel through murky waters and collect valuable data on coral reefs or oil spills.

NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports on the research for the National Science Foundation’s* Science Nation.

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.

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