Unraveling the Secrets of a Fish that Uses Electricity

Performance Tasks

Student will complete a graphic organizer while viewing a video about the electric knifefish. Student will create a flow chart describing some of the experiments researchers conduct in their laboratory.


Taser, bioacoustics, electro-sense 


Pass out charts to students (or have them create the chart on their own). Student will fill in the chart while viewing the video This American Land: “The Body Electric.” Lead student discussion after viewing the video using the chart as a starting point. 


Teacher will review the process of studying the electric knifefish

. Teacher and student will discuss how the “sixth sense” of an electric field helps this animal find its meals; avoid being eaten by other animals; and communicate with other knifefish. Do other animals, even humans, have “sixth senses?” How do they work? 

Student Practice

Additional information 

Researchers are also developing small underwater robots, based on the information they have learned from the activity of the electric knifefish. These robots could be used to study the health of coral reefs, or gain information in dangerous parts of the ocean after an oil spill. This branch of science is called biomimetics.  


Students will create a flow chart describing some of the experiments scientists do with the electric knifefish in their labs. They hear and record the sounds these fish make; they study the differences in how the fish use electricity when they are alone, and when they are in groups; and they look at the bigger picture of how the brain of this unique animal controls its behavior. 


Student will write a concluding statement connecting the study of electric fields produced by knifefish to a better understanding of animal communication. If needed, students can use the starter sentence: Electric knifefish provide an example of animals using _______.

Describe how the electric knifefish uses an electric charge to both find food, and keep from being eaten by bigger fish.
Time needed:
50 minutes

Teacher Guide

Resource Packet

Download our Resource Packet to aid you in your lesson plans. Feel free to selectively use the pages you think will most benefit your students.