Listening to the song of the toadfish (w/Audio)

Mar 25, 2009
The toadfish (Porichthys notatus) which is also known as the plainfin midshipman. Credit: Margaret Marchaterre, Cornell University

(PhysOrg.com) -- Professor Roger Bland is listening in on one of the noisier creatures in San Francisco Bay, using physics to analyze the mating song of the toadfish. While fish don't have vocal chords, they have innovative ways of producing sound. The toadfish, or plainfin midshipman as it is sometimes called because of its button-like markings, is known for its vociferous nighttime mating call. During the summer mating season, the toadfish enter the bay and the male toadfish vibrate the muscles of their swim bladder to invite females to their nests on the bottom of the bay.

What interests Bland, a professor of physics, is that his recordings suggest among the . "The toadfish seem to be collaborating in their calling," Bland said. "Individuals near each other seem to adjust their frequency, or pitch, to an approximate common value. Like a choir improvising, the group's pitch swings substantially over several hours with the individual fish following the swings, indicating that they are listening to each other and responding."

Bland plans to conduct further research on toadfish calls, applying complex physics equations to analyze the fish's pitch. He is also interested in how location affects pitch. "What we are hearing is that one community of toadfish sings at a different pitch to those in the next neighborhood," Bland said.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The toadfish's call sounds like the horn of a ship. The clip starts with one toadfish calling. Other fish join in and there are possibly three singing by the end of the recording.

Since last spring, Bland has been collecting continuous underwater recordings from a microphone based at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies. It is the first permanent acoustic recording station in the bay. The , an underwater microphone, is mounted at the end of the Center's pier, extending approximately 200 feet from the into water about 40 feet deep.

Bland and his students convert the sound files into spectrograms, graphs that plot frequency (pitch) against time. "When we hear the toadfish chorus tuning up, the shows colored lines from the different fish coming together, like weaving a yarn from several strands," Bland said.

Capturing clear recordings is a challenge due to noise pollution from ship traffic, which often has a frequency similar to the sounds made by sea life, making it difficult to separate the two. Bland is planning to collaborate with Romberg Tiburon Center researchers to investigate the effect that noise pollution from ships in has on communication among toadfish.

Provided by San Francisco State University (news : web)

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

When Fish Talk, Scientists Listen

Jul 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A male midshipman, a close relative of the toadfish, doesn't need good looks to attract a mate – just a nice voice. After building a nest for his potential partner, he calls to nearby females ...

Ocean Noise Has Increased Considerably Since 1960s

Aug 21, 2006

With populations increasing around the globe in recent decades, no one would be surprised by an increase in the amount of noise produced in terrestrial environments. Now, a unique study involving researchers at Scripps Institution ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

19 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...