Male weakfish Cynoscion regalis possess highly specialized, bilateral, striated sonic muscles used in sound production associated with courtship. Androgen-driven hypertrophy of the muscles during the late spring spawning period results in a tripling of sonic muscle mass followed by post-spawning atrophy. This study examined the morphological and biochemical changes underlying seasonal changes in sonic muscle mass and the functional effects of these on contraction as measured by sound production. Sonic muscle fiber cross-sectional area (CSA) increased significantly during the period of hypertrophy and then decreased by nearly 60%. Both the CSA of the contractile cylinder and that of the peripheral sarcoplasm decreased significantly by late summer, with the peripheral ring of sarcoplasm virtually disappearing. Muscle protein content followed a similar trend, suggesting a major loss of structural elements during atrophy. Muscle glycogen and lipid content decreased precipitously in early June during the period of maximal sound production. Sound pressure level increased and sound pulse duration decreased with increasing sonic muscle mass, indicating that sonic muscle fibers contract with greater force and shorter duration during the spawning season. Neither the pulse repetition rate nor the number of pulses varied seasonally or with muscle mass, suggesting that the effects of steroids on the acoustic variables are more pronounced peripherally than in the central nervous system. Seasonal sonic muscle hypertrophy, therefore, functions as a secondary sexual characteristic that maximizes vocalization amplitude during the spawning period.

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