Psycho Electric Eel
"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 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.
Anyway, 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. Curiously, while electric eels are dangerous for a submerged body, and they do aggressively attack larger animals wandering into water near them (even jumping out a little to touch the limb above water), the latter behavior is optimized to inflict very painful, yet non-lethal shocks: applying current between the limbs could be much more dangerous and maybe easier, but the distinct "cattle-prod" attack allows to chase away one possible predator without attracting all other predators who could smell the body.
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). Worse yet, Eels may even be confused with snakes, and may be poisonous to compound the electricity. 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.
Anime and Manga
- The idea of all eels being "electric eels" is averted in Japanese media in general because most people there are far better acquainted with the regular kind of eels which you eat, and as stated above knifefish only live in South America.
- In an episode of Princess Tutu, the manager of a ballet troupe is an electric eel. He supplies the lighting needs of the theater.
- An obscure ecchi manga called Okitsune-sama De Chu actually did feature an electric catfish as one off the evil animal spirits possessing people.
- Tintin and the Picaros has a fairly accurate depiction of a gymnotus.
- 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.
- In a What If? humor story (What If the spider had been bitten by a radioactive man?"), Electro's Funny Animal counterpart was an electric eel.
- 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.
- A similar, but deliberately comic, use of eels as power sources is in the steampunkish cartoon A Gentleman's Duel.
Live Action TV
- 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.) And even 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.
- 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.
- Many of the watery areas in Banjo-Tooie feature electric eel enemies. Their current never travels, of course—only touching them damages you.
- 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.
- The Punisher game on PlayStation 2 and PC both averts and subverts this trope in quite a hilarious way. During one level you can 'interogate' 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.
- According to the game manual for Street Fighter 2, Blanka learned how to electrify his skin by observing electric eels. Apparently it's a skill, like basket weaving or flower arranging.
- Electric eels show up in an (admittedly based on South America) area in EarthBound, and yes, they do attack with electric magic.
- 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 ensues and Freddi gets past him by giving him a sandwich.
- World of Warcraft posesses a few eel-type monsters in Zangarmarsh that have (rather weak) electric powers.
- 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 an lampreys.
- There's also Stunfisk, the Electric/Ground flatfish/flounder/stargazer which is also electric.
- The Barboach/Whiscash line can have Spark bred onto them. Remember the header? About electric eels actually being close cousins of catfish?
- Tynamo and its evolutions are actually lampreys, and they are found in a cave because it's the electric cave full of magnetic rocks.
- Volteel Biblio from Mega Man Zero 3.
- As an exception to the "no other electric fish" rule, Volt Catfish from the third Mega Man X game.
- Battletoads has this in the brutal (even for Battletoads) Terra Tubes level, one of the few enemies that doesn't kill you in one hit, but it will push you into something that does.
- In an episode of the RoboCop cartoon, a Mad Scientist gave one of his creations electric eel powers.
- Coming from a show you'd think would know better: 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. Which allowed them to fire bolts of lightning from their hands. Naturally.
- Not to mention Sevarius got "shocked to death" when Goliath kicks him into the tank containing said eels and he grabs onto one. Of course, given that he survived the encounter with no ill effects and that it was all part of the overseeing planmeans he and Xanatos probably knew that his little pets were mostly harmless and was counting on Goliath and Derek to assume they're lethal to the touch.
- A vat of Electric Eels and a special containment system are used for Electro's origin in The Spectacular Spider-Man.
- Despite being based on a Japanese eel, Unagi from Sushi Pack uses electrical power to 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.
- The CG-animation short A Gentlemans Duel features a Victorian-steampunk mecha... that also harbors several electrogenic fish. Their electricity is harnessed as a mode of attack.
- One of the cute but dangerous baby animals the harried Delivery Stork in Partly Cloudy must deliver is an adorable knifefish.
- 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 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.
- Used by the Hooded Claw to power a Death Trap in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot".