June 13, 2013

‘Seeing’ And Communication: Electric Fish Style

Weakly electric fish spend their lives bathed in their own internally generated mild electric field, interpreting perturbations in the field as objects pass through and when communicating with members of their own species through high frequency electric 'chirps'. Rüdiger Krahe, from McGill University, Canada, says, 'These fish are very cryptic and hard for us to understand because we don't have this electric sense'. Electric fish actively produce their weak electric fields; they are not a passive by-product of other physiological functions. In fact, these weak electric fields can be thought of in the same way as the sounds that bats emit for echolocation. Krahe adds that the signals are easy to record, analyze and mimic, allowing researchers to measure the recipient's behavioral response to the signal and then trace the complex train of neural events that relates the behavioral response to the sensory input. Explaining that this enigmatic system has evolved multiple times, Krahe also lists the two currently existing modern groups of weakly electric fish: one in Africa (Mormyriformes) and the other in South America (Gymnotiformes). Teaming up with Eric Fortune, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA, Krahe has collated an eclectic collection of review articles dedicated to many aspects of the electric fish lifestyle, covering electric sensory coding and neuromodulation, the physiology of the electric organ, electric fish locomotion and evolution. Together, they are publishing this collection on 12 June 2013 in The Journal of Experimental Biology.


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