Eel Powers Christmas Tree Lights at Utah Aquarium

Sparky the eel is helping a Utah aquarium power one of its Christmas trees

ByABC News
December 5, 2012, 12:10 PM

Dec. 5, 2012— -- Forget lighting a Christmas tree the traditional way, with strings of lights plugged into the wall. The Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy, Utah is using one of its very own residents -- an electric eel -- to twinkle its tree.

"Visitors can visually and audibly experience the power of our electric eel and get a real sense of how amazing this creature is," said Angie Hyde, the aquarium's marketing director.

For the past three years, Sparky, an electric eel that is part of the aquarium's "Journey To South America" gallery, has been "sparking" the five-foot tall tree with electric currents that he emits into the water. With two stainless-steel electrodes, the currents are connected to sequencers, which in turn produce flashing lights. The rate at which they blink depends on the voltage Sparky produces.

"He's just doing his natural, normal activity and we feel like it's a neat spin. It teaches visitors about the eel and what it's all about," said Hyde.

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Hyde said visitors have warmly welcomed Sparky and his glowing talent, which she said will become a regular holiday tradition. The display is sponsored by a local power company, Cache Valley Electric. It will run until Dec. 31.

"We thought we'd put a festive twist on it for the holidays, which has been a huge hit with our members and visitors," Hyde said.

Native to the waters of the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America, electric eels possess organs with nearly 6,000 specialized cells , or electrolytes, that can store as much as five times the power one can get from a U.S. wall socket.

"This really helps give a visual idea of what an animal really does on a daily basis in a really creative way," Hyde said.