Electric Ray

The electric ray (Torpediniformes) are flat, cartilaginous fish with enlarged fins. They are found all around the world in warm waters. They are known for being capable of producing an electric discharge, ranging from 8 to 220 volts, used to stun prey and defense.

Electric rays have a rounded pectoral disc with two medium-large dorsal fins, and a stout, muscular tail with a well-developed caudal fin. The body is thick and flabby, with soft loose skin with no spines. A pair of kidney-shaped electric organs are at the bottom of the pectoral fins. The snout is broad but reduced in all other families. The mouth, nostrils, and five pairs of gill slits are underneath the disc.

The electric properties of electric rays have been known since ancient times. The ancient Greeks used electric rays to numb the pain of childbirth and operations. In his dialogue Meno, Plato has the character Meno accuse Socrates of “stunning” people with his puzzling questions, in a manner similar to the way the torpedo fish stuns with electricity. Scribonius Largus, a Roman physician, recorded the use of torpedo fish for treatment of headaches and gout in his Compositiones Medicae.

The torpedo fish, or electric ray, appears continuously in premodern natural histories as an incredible creature, and its ability to numb fishermen without seeming to touch them was a significant source of evidence for the belief in qualities in nature during the ages before the discovery of electricity as an explanatory explanation.

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