Electric eels are cool. Dude, they're animals but they have electric powers! They're like real-life supervillains! They could totally fry you to a crisp, electrify the entire lake and fire bolts of lightning from their eyes!
Yeah... that's not exactly how electric eels work in reality.
First off, electric "eels" are actually not eels at all. They are a species of knifefish, a group of freshwater fish closely related to catfish, many of whom are electrogenic; they are able to generate electric fields which aid them in hunting for food. There are actually a surprising number of electrogenic fish, but don't expect them to show up in fiction.
Secondly, electric eels are found only in South America. They are indeed able to stun their enemies with a nasty jolt - up to 1 ampere, enough to kill a human. They can generate a charge large enough to kill a grounded person, stun a horse or blow out several bulbs, but they don't exactly light up like Las Vegas. Lastly, they are also not capable of constantly emitting jolts over a long period of time, and will eventually run out of juice if forced into it.
In fiction, these fish will be ridiculously overpowered. Furthermore, thanks to the confusing name, writers tend to think actual Eels—a different group of fish entirely—have electric powers.* This has led to the asinine belief that eel-skin wallets erase credit cards, when "eel" leather is also made from an entirely different fish.note Worse yet, eels may even be confused with snakes, and may be venomous to compound the electricity (real eels aren't venomous, but moray eel bites can be infected by septic bacteria in their mouth). Furthermore, whenever a Mad Scientist needs to give his monster some extra oomph, he'll give it electric eel powers. Often results in X-Ray Sparks when they attack someone in a cartoon.
Sub-Trope of Fiendish Fish and Artistic License – Marine Biology. See also Slippery as an Eel, Electric Jellyfish, and Shark Pool.
- An obscure ecchi manga called Okitsune-sama de Chu actually did feature an electric catfish as one of the evil animal spirits possessing people.
- In an episode of Princess Tutu, the manager of a ballet troupe is an electric eel. He supplies the lighting needs of the theater.
- Adolf Reinhardt from TerraforMARS has an electric eel base.
- Exists as a not very good card from the The Dark expansion set of Magic: The Gathering.
- In Tank Vixens, Gedda drops an electric eel in Ani's hot tub as part of an Escalating War. Harmless Electrocution ensues.
- Tintin and the Picaros has a fairly accurate depiction of a gymnotus. Captain Haddock, on being informed some can deliver a shock powerful enough to kill a horse, says it's a good thing he isn't a horse.
- In a What If? humor story ("What if the Spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?", in What If #8), Electro's Funny Animal counterpart was an electric eel.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: In #111 Wonder Woman is able to defeat her killer robot duplicate by kicking it towards the giant electric eels near Paradise Island which zap and short out the robot.
- X-Men / New Warriors enemy Bandit has powers that are often compared to an electric eel by other characters...meaning they're a lot less impressive than Surge, Electro or Storm's. He needed skin contact to electrocute others until he made special weapons to work around his limitations.
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 features a tank full of genetically altered electric eels. Max Dillon gets bitten, fried, and turned into the villainous Electro when he accidentally falls into said tank.
- A big aggressive one inhabits the cavern where the Nautilus is hidden in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Hank re-charges the submarine's long-dead batteries by sticking the zap-happy creature with a wire-trailing harpoon.
- In Licence to Kill, James Bond knocks a guard into a tank of electric eels with lethal results.
- In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kenneth Branagh, Victor Frankenstein used electric eels to jump-start his monster.
- One is used to comedic effect in Reptilicus, inflicting Amusing Injuries on the slow-witted maintenance worker, Peterson.
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Done with an electric ray (if there was one work that would avert Small Taxonomy Pools, this is it) that shocks Conseil out of his Third-Person Person and Stoic demeanor. In revenge, he eats it for dinner (but as noted by the professor, solely out of vengeance, because it wasn't even that good).
- In Wings of Fire, Queen Coral keeps a prison with electric eels inside the water and streams of water floating from the top of the prison so flying won't help you. Their shocks are noted to be enough to kill a dragon, though they are portrayed as being able to run out of electricity and not being able to emit it constantly. Also justified given everything is larger and more powerful in the Wings of Fire universe to be more dragon-sized.
- The Doctor Who episode "The Girl Who Died" had a Viking village that farmed electric eels, with a constant lightning effect over the top of their tank. Since they didn't use the eels as weapons until the Doctor thought of it, we were never told why they farmed electric eels (perhaps for medical purposes, like the Greeks used torpedo fish?) or indeed how electric eels even arrived in Viking lands.
- The Future Is Wild has the Lurkfish, a descendant of modern electric eels... that is three meters long, and capable of outright killing octopuses at considerable range.
- This trope is so pervasive that there's an urban legend that eel-skin wallets erase credit cards. Busted by the MythBusters, seeing that the wallets aren't made of electric eels, duh. (They're not even made of eels, for the record.) When they put credit cards next to live electric eels, there was no effect.
- Star Trek: Voyager had the Delta Flyer, doubling as a submarine, in a brush with an alien giant electric eel.
- Eleking from Ultraseven, a Kaiju resembling a giant bipedal mix of an electric eel with antenna and an eyeless newt, was inspired by this trope. Asides from having the ability to spit electric energy disks from its "mouth", its ridiculously long tail was effective at coiling around the hero and shocking them. Eleking is also one of the most popular monsters in the series, and has reappeared in many sequel shows.
- The "Mongolian Death Worm" combines this trope with Sand Worm; it can allegedly shoot jolts of electricity that can kill livestock.
- The Far Side: One strip helpfully demonstrates places not to keep your pet electric eel, ie, in a fishbowl perched on the edge of your tub while you are taking a bath.
- In the Broadway musical of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Flotsam and Jetsam have electric powers. This in spite of their having been moray eels in the movie, and actually being accurate enough to not have electric powers.
- Eelware in Eclipse Phase is a Bio-Augmentation that allows characters to shock people with their bare hands.
- The electric eel is, naturally, one of the fish that can be caught in The Amazon Trail. It is completely inedible and has to be released when caught, or else it will retaliate with an electric shock. ("OWWW!")
- Many of the watery areas in Banjo-Tooie feature electric eel enemies. Their current never travels — only touching them damages you.
- Battletoads has the Electra-Eels in the Terra Tubes level. They're one of the few enemies that won't kill you in one hit, but will push you into something that does.
- There are Electric Eel enemies that only appear in the sewer levels of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and they come in two varieties: the normal type present in every sewer level periodically electrifies the water for a couple of seconds while a rarer variant only seen on a secret route in one level is constantly discharging electricity. The eels themselves cannot be defeated so the only thing that Crash can do is avoid their electrical discharges.
- The Crystal Key 2 has the Tarru Eel, on planet Meribah, which not only cause dangerous shocks on contact, but they're also known to attack another of its kind to protect its territory. You have to exploit such an eel to trick it into charging a submarine this way.
- The boss battle against Cuphead's Cala Maria features electric eels as Mooks which can spit lightning blasts in Bullet Hell fashion. Two of them also trigger Cala's transformation into a Gorgeous Gorgon by zapping her, complete with X-Ray Sparks.
- Electric eels show up in an (admittedly based on South America) area in EarthBound (1994), and yes, they do attack with electric magic.
- The electric eels in Endless Ocean: Blue World are dangerous to touch, and unlike the luna lionfish, they move around. Unlike all the other dangerous animals, however, they don't really attack so much as they just don't care where you are in relation to them. And they can't be made harmless with the Pulsar. However, they're only located in a small part of the Cortica River in, as said, South America. (There are actual species of eel in the game, and they're not conflated with the electric eel.)
- Fox N Forests: One enemy type Rick can encounter in the game are electric eels that leap out of the water and give off electricity before diving back in. They can be defeated by being made to dive onto ice.
- In the first Freddi Fish adventure game, at one point the titular fish finds her way blocked by a hostile electric eel with a very sleazy voice who emanates cartoon lightning bolts. However, this being a kid's game, no actual violence ensuesnote and Freddi gets past him by giving him a sandwich.
- Electric Eels are a combineable animal in Impossible Creatures, where they give the resulting horror an arcthrower in their head and the ability to generate a massive burst of lightning that does damage to everything around it. Slightly more justified than most examples, however, since you can produce a combination critter forty feet long and weighing twenty tons by combining it with a sperm whale or an elephant, presumably creating a much more significant electric charge than an ordinary garden-variety six-foot eel weighing forty pounds.
- Amp, a pet from Insaniquarium, is an electric eel which can zap all the guppies present in the tank, turning them into diamonds in the process.
- Kingdom of Loathing, with its inordinate fondness of puns, has an acoustic/electric eel as one of the monsters you can encounter in The Sea.
- Mega Man series:
- Volteel Biblio from Mega Man Zero 3. He used to be a normal mutosnote reploid until an accident fried his brain, turning him into a Talkative Loon with a penchant for screaming randomly. Being reprogrammed by Dr Weil to serve as one of his Weil's Numbers didn't help his mental state at all.
- As an exception to the "no other electric fish" rule, Volt Catfish from the third Mega Man X game.
- Street Fighter X Mega Man has you face them in Blanka's stage. (See the Street Fighter example above for a probable reason why).
- Electric catfish are actually the power source of Thunder Tower in Mother 3. The Pigmasks were originally able to get them to provide electricity by scaring or surprising them, but, in time, diminishing returns set in as they became harder to frighten.
- In Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Raiden - the God of Thunder in the game's universe - transforms into an electric eel as his Animality.
- Octogeddon has Volt the Electric Eel. This adorable fish can unleash a huge electric shock stunning every enemy on screen. The attack will also reveal every cloaked enemy which was onscreen.
- Pokémon Black and White has the Tynamo line-up which, for some reason, are found in a cave. Not in the water inside the cave, but actually in the cave itself, floating around. They're not even part Water-type; they're all Electric, and also have elements of leeches and lampreys. The lack of a Water-type may be a reference to the little-known fact about electric eels being obligate air-breathers.
- Tynamo and its evolutions are partly based on lampreys as well as electric eels, and they are found in a cave because it's the electric cave full of magnetic rocks.
- There's also Stunfisk, the Electric/Ground flounder/stargazer/electric ray which is also Electric.
- The Barboach/Whiscash line can have Spark bred onto them, and are based on the lesser known electric catfish.
- The earliest example was the Chinchou/Lanturn-line. They are anglerfish, but their light isn't chemical, but electrical, so they are part Electric-type and learn many electric moves.
- The Punisher game on PS2 and PC both averts and subverts this trope in quite a hilarious way. During one level you can 'interrogate' an enemy mook by threatening to dunk him in an Electric Eel's tank. While the aquarium's (automated) PA system goes into scientific detail about the Eel - pointing out that it's actually a fish, for example - when you dunk the mook, he's electrified to death in a very dramatic manner.
- Some Roguelikes have electric eels which do electricity damage. Possibly the worst example is Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Although toned down in later versions at one point they were capable of flinging lightning bolts across the screen for massive damage then diving underwater when you got close, making them among the most annoying enemies in the game.
- One level in Sleeping Dogs allows you to finish off enemies by throwing them into an aquarium full of electric eels.
- The Zapfish from Splatoon are electric catfish that are used as major sources of power in the games' universe. The Octarian Army kidnapping the Great Zapfish, a giant Zapfish that provides most of Inkopolis's power, kicks off the plot of the main single-player modes in the first two games.
- According to the game manual for Street Fighter II, Blanka learned how to electrify his skin by observing electric eels. Apparently it's a skill, like basket weaving or flower arranging.
- One of the bigger, nastier creatures that can assail you in Subnautica is the Ampeel, a large, armored eel-like creature covered in electric prongs. It is able to generate an electrical field that does a fair amount of damage to a player and a noticeable amount of damage to all vehicles. It is one of the more dangerous foes that a Cyclops submarine can face, especially because it is undeterred by electrical defense fields and must instead by driven off by stasis rifles, repulsion cannons, or torpedoes.
- World of Warcraft possesses a few eel-type monsters in Zangarmarsh that have (rather weak) electric powers.
- One of the weapons in the Flash game Crush the Castle 2 is a jar containing electric eels. When it smashes against a conductive surface, it zaps everything in contact with that surface.
- Used in the Beetlejuice animated series episode "Road Hawg", where Beetlejuice builds himself a vicious motorcycle made from nasty parts, to which he added two electric eels, giving Road Hawg an electric charge.
- In one episode of Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Whiskers gets attacked by an electric eel that somehow ended up in his swim trunks. In another, he uses one to recharge a handheld gaming console. Unlike most examples, this one makes sense as the show is set in The Amazon Rainforest.
- The Flintstones occasionally features electric eels as a power source for some of their Stone Age devices (such as microwave ovens in the 90s TV-movies).
- The Mad Scientist in Gargoyles who worked out a way to change humans into Gargoyles - sort of - explained that the real Gargoyles had a magical means of storing solar energy as they slept through the day as stone. Lacking another animal that could do so, he decided to give his human-goyles the genes for an electric eel's electric organs, allowing them to fire bolts of lightning from their hands.
- Sevarius got "shocked to death" when Goliath kicks him into the tank containing said eels and he grabs onto one. Given that he survived the encounter with no ill effects and that it was all part of an overarching plan means he and Xanatos probably knew that his little pets were mostly harmless and were counting on Goliath and Derek to assume they're lethal to the touch.
- The CGI animated short A Gentlemen's Duel features a Victorian-era steampunk mecha... that also harbors several electrogenic fish. Their electricity is harnessed as a mode of attack.
- Used in Kim Possible to allow Kim a chance to vent and lampshade the predictability of her rogues gallery and to predict the inevitable "Shocking!" line that the villain does indeed use.
- One of the cute but dangerous baby animals the harried Delivery Stork in Partly Cloudy must deliver is an adorable knifefish.
- In an episode of Robo Cop The Animated Series, a Mad Scientist gave one of his creations electric eel powers.
- Used by the Hooded Claw to power a Death Trap in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot".
- In The Simpsons' "The Cartridge Family":
Lenny: Assault weapons have gotten a lot of bad press lately, but they're manufactured for a reason: to take out today's modern super animals, such as the flying squirrel, and the electric eel!
- "Cape Feare" also featured electric eels menacing Bart when he tried to jump off a houseboat to escape Sideshow Bob. This despite the fact that they were nowhere near South America at the time. Also, the electric eels for some reason have snake-like tongues.
- A vat of Electric Eels and a special containment system are used for Electro's origin in The Spectacular Spider-Man.
- Electro (reimagined as an anthropomorphic electric eel) in Spider-Man Unlimited.
- Despite being based on a Japanese eel, Unagi from Sushi Pack uses electrical power to attack.