I was walking past some power lines today, and a flying fox (like a small furry bat, for those who don't know Australian fauna) had grabbed onto two adjacent power lines, closing the circuit, and as such died due to electrocution.

That got me thinking about whether or not the animal would decay in this situation. As far as I understand it, decay is caused by bacteria and other micro-organisms. Could they survive in this high-voltage environment? If not, will this poor flying fox be perfectly preserved until the next blackout occurs?

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    $\begingroup$ even if all the bacteria on and in the flying fox die, as soon as he hits the ground there will be plenty more organisms joining. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ That is really interesting thought! I've read about microorganisms that can live in extreme conditions like strongly acidic/ alkaline/ salty/ boiling-hot environment; but never read about electrified environment. Thanks for asking!! $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ probably the OP is asking if it is not grounded; i.e. electric current continue to flow through that organism, then what will happen. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ Environemental factors will degrade it (wind-water etc.). For the decaying part, good question sir. But from what I know, electricity will follow a certain shortest path inside the body to close the circuit. The rest shouldnt be electrified and bacteria will be alive. $\endgroup$
    – Dart Feld
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Always Confused "but never read about electrified environment". Bioelectrochemistry is actually a field of research. Microbes can exchange electrons with solid electrodes. If interested, you can search for Microbial Fuel Cells or Microbial Electrolysis Cells. Of course it's rather low voltages and currents, but still, there are a lot of exciting applications. $\endgroup$
    – Flo
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


Environemental factors would degrade it (wind-water etc.).

But from what I know, electricity will follow a certain shortest path inside the body to close the circuit. The rest shouldnt be electrified and bacteria will be alive.

Bacteria are indeed not resistant to high levels of electricity and would die of it. The current would need to traverse the Entirety of the animal to kill every single bacteria which is highly improbable. Leave one alone, it will reproduce fast.

From what I researched, a constant electrical current of the power of an electric line would cook the animal in a short time. The flying fox you saw probably didnt have live current traversing him anymore and died from a quick jolt (this is a guess only).

Even in the extreme case that 100% of the bacteria would die, the dead animal would be recolonized by bacteria really fast. Even in the wires, wind or animals would carry bacteria.

Power lines are probably protected from arcing this way through anything that could touch them. Imagine if they werent, trees touching them would burn, shoes you throw and hang on them would be calcinated etc.

Off-topic: Are you sure he wasn't only sleeping on his improvised power-line hammock ? :P


Conduction of Electrical Current to and Through the Human Body: A Review

Effects of high electric fields on microorganisms I. Killing of bacteria and yeasts

  • $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=eczDpGiULLo $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Note that that paper used 25 kV/cm (2.5 mega V/m - the si unit) - this is way way higher than all but the very highest voltage transmission lines. I think you will find that the reason is purely cooking (high temp) and then desiccation. Trees that touch powerlines can indeed burn and short out lines. $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:20

Let me first point out what is harmful about electric current:

  • alternating (ac) current in the range of 20-200Hz is dangerous, because (even for miliampere current values) it may interfere with the oscillations of heart, causing fibrillation and subsequent death, if the normal blood circulation is not restored within a short period of time. This is typically the cause of death in the domestic accidents associated with electricity (leaving apart falling form a ladder when getting shocked).
  • direct (dc) current is harmful only at high values, such as 1 ampere and greater. These are rare in domestic conditions, but not uncommon in industrial setting. In this case the current flowing through the body simply paralizes miscles, leaving the eprson conscious, but unable to release the wire. The harm results from being heated by currents, resulting in lethal burns.

Touching the electric power line certainly involves the ac effect, and in some cases may imply the dc effect as well. If the animal simply died from the heart fibrilation, the damage to its tissues due to the current is virtually non-existent, and it will decay normally. If the current was high enough to cause burns, then the current stops once the tissues along its path carbonize and stop being conducting. Burned tissue is inorganic matter, which is of little interest to micro-organism. However, anything that was not burned, will decay normally.

Some also these relevant posts:


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