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Marsha Maxwell

Utah's Most Shocking Christmas Tree

By December 4, 2012

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When I was a kid I wondered if an electric eel could power a light bulb. The Living Planet Aquarium has answered this question with what just might be Utah's weirdest holiday light display. A Christmas tree in the "Journey To South America" gallery is powered by the energy generated by an electric eel in a nearby tank.

"We took the voltage produced by the eel via stainless steel electrodes and used it to power a sequencer," said Terry Smith, project manager at Cache Valley Electric. "The sequencer operates circuitry that flashes the lights, fast or slow, based on the level of voltage he puts out." Each time the eel moves, the lights on the five-foot tall tree flash intermittently.

Electric eels live in the murky streams and ponds of the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America. These famous freshwater predators get their name from the enormous electrical charge they can generate to stun prey and dissuade predators. Their bodies contain electric organs with about 6,000 specialized cells called electrocytes that store power like tiny batteries. When threatened or attacking prey, these cells will discharge simultaneously, emitting a burst of at least 600 volts, which equals five times the power of a standard U.S. wall socket. The eel-powered holiday light display will be available to visitors through December 31.

Living Planet Aquarium
725 E. 10600 S. in Sandy
801-355-FISH (3474)

Admission is $9.95 per adult, $7.95 per child ages 3-17, and free for children ages 2 and under.

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Photo courtesy Living Planet Aquarium

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