If you happen to enjoy the festive light display at the Tennessee Aquarium over the holidays, you can thank a certain electric eel for it.
Although the eel in question probably doesn't care either way. Miguel Wattson is just doing what comes naturally.
This year, staff at the Chattanooga-based facility devised a way to link the eel's electrical discharges to the holiday tree. Along the way, they hope to shed some light on one of nature's most fascinating creatures.
"That's a great thing about what we do," Thom Benson, director of external affairs for the Tennessee Aquarium, tells MNN. "The Christmas tree is a wonderful hook to get attention. But once you get people's attention, then you can talk about how fantastic this electrical capability is."
The aquarium has long tapped into Miguel's jolting genius. His tank is typically attached to sensors that parlay his every shock into light and sound. Only this time, he's creating a holiday buzz.
And no, Miguel isn't being overworked over the holidays. In fact, he has no idea he's spreading so much Christmas cheer. Basically, his standard electrical arsenal comes in two flavors: low and high voltage. Low-voltage shocks are typically reserved for communicating or navigating his surroundings.
"It's similar in a way to echolocation for bats," Benson explains.
But when Migeul gets excited — like when food makes an appearance in his tank — he switches to high voltage. And the holiday display goes from twinkle-twinkle to seasonal supernova.
Miguel isn't directly powering the display — although technically, a big eel power quite a few 40-watt light bulbs without breaking a sweat.
Instead, a sound and light board translates Miguel's various jolts into holiday cheer.
But this eel doesn't just spark joy among aquarium-goers. He's casually famous on social media too, with nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter.
By thrusting an unassuming eel into the bright lights of celebrity — even as an unlikely holiday ambassador — aquarium staff are hoping he can make a connection with people.
Not only can we learn much from an eel's strange and surprising ways, but we may even find common ground. Or water.
"These animals depend on the same thing we do," Benson says. "Clean fresh water."
Which is why, in addition to being a purveyor of holiday cheer, Miguel is also an ambassador for the increasingly imperiled resource.
"That's part of the fun of these things — to capture people's attention and their imagination," Benson says. "But then impart some knowledge … and help them appreciate these animals for what they are. And they're very fascinating creatures."
And who knows how far Miguel's foray into holiday traditions will take him? Perhaps, as Benson suggests, an electric eel will inspire a Christmas ditty someday. Much like how a certain red-nosed reindeer found his way into holiday lore.