The Malapteruridae are the only group of catfish with well-developed electrogenic organs; however, electroreceptive systems are widespread in catfishes. The electrogenic organ is derived from anterior body musculature and lines the body cavity. Electric catfish do not have dorsal fins or fin spines. They have three pairs of barbels (the nasal pair is absent). The swim bladder has elongate posterior chambers, two chambers in Malapterurus and three in Paradoxoglanis.
Malapterurus have been conditioned by means of reward to discharge on signal. As reported in the New York Times, April 2, 1967, a researcher, Dr. Frank J. Mandriota of City College, New York, conditioned an M. electricus to discharge on a light signal for a reward of live worms delivered automatically. This is the first conditioning that modified neither glandular nor muscular responses.