As It Happens

Watch Miguel Wattson the eel light up a Christmas tree with his natural voltage

He's no partridge in a pear tree, but an eel named Miguel Wattson is sparking yuletide cheer in Tennessee.

'I think people are really enjoying it,' says Kimberly Hurt of the Tennessee Aquarium

An electric eel named Miguel Wattson lights up a Christmas tree at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Thom Benson/Tennessee Aquarium/The Associated Press)

He's no partridge in a pear tree, but an eel named Miguel Wattson is sparking yuletide cheer in Chattanooga, Tenn.

That's because his tank at the Tennessee Aquarium is rigged so that his electric shocks power the lights on a nearby Christmas tree.

"When he produces low-voltage shocks, it's kind of a gentle blinking on the lights. And when he's producing his high-voltage shocks, it's a very dramatic bright flash of the light," Wattson's caretaker, aquarist Kimberly Hurt, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I think people are really enjoying it."

It's not a big change for Wattson. His tank is usually attached to a light and sound board, Hurt said.

But the tree is drawing extra attention to his display, with plenty of folks stopping by to ask how it works.

Small shocks, she said, are usually a sign the eel is communicating or using electrolocation, a process of bouncing electricity off its environment in order to navigate.

The high-voltage shocks, she said, are more aggressive — usually produced during hunting or self-defence.

In Wattson's case, those big, bright flashes usually coincide with feeding time. 

"When we drop pieces of food in, Miguel gets really excited and he goes with those high-voltage shocks after the food items trying to stun them," she said. "We're feeding him frozen food, but he still does get really excited."

And, of course, he also has his own Twitter account where each registered shock prompts a "SHAZAM!!!!" or a"ka-BLAMEROO!!!!!"

Hurt says the goal of the exhibit is to spark love and appreciation for the unusual fish and the freshwater environment it comes from. 

"We try to impress upon people that the freshwater that these animals depend on is the same freshwater that we depend on to keep us healthy and thriving too," she said.

"So we have to protect the water that these animals live in to help ourselves."

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Cameron Perrier with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Cameron Perrier.