TODAY’S EEL: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the Electrophorus electricus or the Electric eel. But wait, you might be thinking, didn’t we do this one already? We did! But guess what, there’s news about this eel that is both very interesting and thematically relevant to this newsletter so we’re doing it again.
I first told you about the electric eel back in May, and in that newsletter I talked about the ways in which scientists have tried to measure just how electric an electric eel really is. But since that newsletter, new research was published that strongly suggests that there may in fact be more than one electric eel species out there. A Brazilian researcher named Carlos David de Santana believes that there are actually three different species of electric eel. He came to this conclusion by looking not just at DNA, but also at the environments that these eels live in and their behavior. Here is the always excellent Ed Yong at The Atlantic, writing about the differences:
One of the trio retains the original name Electrophorus electricus, and de Santana now calls it Linnaeus’s electric eel, after the legendary Swedish taxonomist who classified it. The two others are now Volta’s electric eel (Electrophorus voltai), after the Italian physicist who built a battery based on the animal, and Vari’s electric eel (Electrophorus varii), after Richard Peter Vari, a famous ichthyologist who was part of de Santana’s team until his death in 2016. (Most of the eels used in previous research are likely to be Vari’s eels, since they’re the only species from Peru, the only country from which these animals can be legally exported.)
This kind of oversight — thinking that something is one thing when in fact there is nuance between them — isn’t uncommon in biology. And it’s especially common when the animal is unusual and poorly studied. As Yong notes, “there are likely four distinct species of giraffe, three species of mola mola, and two species of African elephants.”
I also want to quote from another section in this Atlantic piece, because it’s wild.
Collecting these animals from the wild, as de Santana did, is not easy. “I do it by myself, or with the help of really experienced fishermen,” he says. “I don’t allow students to do it. It’s never safe.” Even if he wears rubber gloves, the sweat that builds up inside them eventually links up with the water outside them, creating a continuous conductive layer. Bottom line: You can’t collect electric eels without suffering shocks, which de Santana compares to getting hit with a Taser. It’s even worse in the dry season, when more than 10 individuals can occupy a single stream. “When one starts to discharge, the others do too,” says de Santana. “You just get used to it. You do what you have to do.”
You do what you have to do! Sometimes that means getting shocked by strange fish in the name of knowledge!
So now you know, and the next time someone brings up electric eels you can be that guy at the party and say “well, actually, there are three different species of electric eels so you’ll need to be more specific.”
STATUS: Waiting, waiting, waiting. I’ve pitched what feels like a billion projects, and I’m waiting to find out which ones (if any) are going to happen. I hate waiting.
STATUS II: The last time we talked about Electrophorus electricus I wrote an essay about work taxonomies. It’s an odd cosmic coincidence that in that essay I talked about my various work “buckets” and there were three of them (just like there are in fact three species of Electrophorus electricus).
In that essay, I mentioned launching a secret Patreon, for all the things that fall into a bucket that I’m excited about, but that doesn’t really pay. In the essay I called it “FICTION” but it encompasses more than that. It’s mostly fiction, but it really holds all the things that I can’t put on Flash Forward, or sell to publications. That essay went out to you lovely subscribers in May. And the Patreon remained secret, totally unlaunched, for months.
Then, just a few weeks ago, on an episode of the Flash Forward BONUS PODCAST, I mentioned it. I talked about the same things I mentioned in the essay here — my fear that nobody will donate, my worry that Flash Forward listeners will feel like they shouldn’t have to give twice, my anxiety that peers will see another Patreon as desperate and sad.
I had assumed that I’d put out that Bonus Podcast and then carry on sitting on the secret Patreon for some undetermined amount of time, possibly forever. But what actually happened, was that a handful of Flash Forward listeners put on their detective caps and found the Patreon page and donated to it! Which was so, so lovely. And also a tiny bit terrifying. But mostly lovely!
I still haven’t shared a link to the Patreon page on my most public social channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) but now that the eel is out of the bucket, so to speak, I’ll share the link here with you in case you want to support my weird projects that way.
What does this mean for this newsletter, you may wonder? Great question.
If you’re a paying subscriber to this newsletter, you’ll get the weekly blog posts that go out to the Patrons, so no need to shift over if you don’t want to. I’m sending out a blog post to Patrons at the end of this week.
If you’re a non-paying subscriber you’ll continue to get these extremely irregular newsletters as if nothing has changed.
Doesn’t this eel illustration look like an eel and an otter had an illegitimate lovechild? Just me? Okay… moving on.
Hello Mr. Jackson, welcome. I have good news. This is heaven. You’re allowed to celebrate a little sure, take your time.
Before I bring you in I have a few questions for you. Heaven is probably not going to be what you expected, and I want to be sure I understand how to best get you situated.
How old are you?
Don’t I know? Yes, of course I know, the question is meant to test you not me.
And where were you born?
I’m not going to take notes by the way, don’t be alarmed, I remember everything.
What was your favorite food?
What was your favorite television show?
Did you watch any reality television Mr. Jackson?
Yes, American idol counts.
Okay, what about reality dating shows…
Really any of them. A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, I Love New York, Love Island, I’m feeling generous so I’d even count The Real World. No? Not even The Bachelor? Hm. Okay.
Why do I ask? Right, it’s a common question. We find that people who watch those shows fare far better here.
Sinful? No. I don’t know why you all think that. It’s actually great preparation for heaven.
Yes, I was about to explain why if you would stop interrupting.
Your first wife Mira is here, which is good news. I’d imagine you’re quite keen on seeing her again, yes? Right, I would expect so. The wrinkle is that her first husband is also here. They have been living in heavenly bliss for ten Earth years now. And here you come along. Do you see where I am going here? Things can sometimes get a bit, tricky. Heaven is not unlike the show Ex on a Beach. Are you familiar with it? Too bad, it is a wonderful program. And would make you far more prepared for this whole ordeal.
But never fear, we have unlimited time to catch you up. Come with me, there’s a viewing room over here. Where shall we begin? I’m partial to Are You The One season eight.
Yes, I’m quite serious. It’s your choice Mr. Jackson, but I must insist you watch until I feel you are ready.