Electric fish conduct electric duets in aquatic courtship

Jun 20, 2007

Cornell researchers have discovered that in the battle of the sexes, African electric fish couples not only use specific electrical signals to court but also engage in a sort of dueling "electric duet."

The study is the first to compare electrical and behavioral displays in breeding and nonbreeding Brienomyrus brachyistius, a type of mormyrid electric fish, which emit weak electric fields from a batterylike organ in their tails to sense their surroundings and communicate their species, sex and social status with other fish. It is also the first study to successfully sort signals in electric fish based on sex.

The research, which is the cover story in the July 1 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, is authored by Carl D. Hopkins, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior, and Ryan Wong '05, who conducted the study as an undergraduate for his senior honors thesis and is now a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas in Austin.

"Our study provides strong evidence that the 'rasp' [a certain electric signal] is a male advertisement call during courtship in this species," said Wong, noting that the males also serenade females with lower frequency "creaks."

The researchers developed custom software that offers new techniques for separating and documenting electrical pulses based on sex. They video recorded four pair of mating mormyrids (a feat in itself, since the species rarely breeds successfully in captivity) and identified nine common motor displays and 11 specific pulse sequences common to courtship and mating.

"Knowing the electrical and motor patterns during courtship allows for further exploration of such topics as mate choice and neural basis of pattern generation in these fish," explained Hopkins, noting that the next step in the research will be to decode the fish transmissions and unravel their meaning.

Source: Cornell University

Explore further: Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

Related Stories

Justices seem divided over EPA mercury limits (Update)

Mar 25, 2015

The Supreme Court's conservative justices cast doubt Wednesday on the Obama administration's first-ever regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contribute to ...

Zoo innovations has animals foraging for food

Mar 20, 2015

When red pandas go on exhibit for the first time at Brookfield Zoo in July, they'll be housed around a broad tree that looks like a giant bonsai and has magical qualities.

Water in Oregon pipeline is tapped for electricity

Feb 21, 2015

Lucid Energy has developed a renewable energy system that makes use of water moving through pipelines. The company's LucidPipe Power System converts pressure in water pipelines into electricity. They have ...

Recommended for you

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

38 minutes ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

58 minutes ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

Fish play a role in seed dispersal over large distances

2 hours ago

Fish can play a role in seed dispersal over large distances. Heavy seeds in particular pass undamaged through the mouths and intestines of fish and may end up being dispersed for miles, both in an upstream ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.