Weakly electric fish produce electric signals (electric organ discharges, EODs) with a specialised electric organ creating an electric field around their body. Objects within this field alter the EOD-induced current at epidermal electroreceptor organs, which are distributed over almost the entire body surface. The detection, localisation and analysis of objects performed by monitoring self-produced electric signals is called active electrolocation. Electric fish employ active electrolocation to detect objects that are less than 12 cm away and have electric properties that are different from those of the surrounding water. Within this range, the mormyrid Gnathonemus petersii can also perceive the distance of objects. Depth perception is independent of object parameters such as size, shape and material. The mechanism for distance determination through electrolocation involves calculating the ratio between two parameters of the electric image that the object projects onto the fish's skin. Electric fish can not only locate objects but can also analyse their electrical properties. Fish are informed about object impedance by measuring local amplitude changes at their receptor organs evoked by an object. In addition, all electric fish studied so far can independently determine the capacitative and resistive components of objects that possess complex impedances. This ability allows the fish to discriminate between living and non-living matter, because capacitance is a property of living organisms. African mormyrids and South American gymnotiforms use different mechanisms for capacitance detection. Mormyrids detect capacitance-evoked EOD waveform distortions, whereas gymnotiforms perform time measurements. Gymnotiforms measure the temporal phase shift of their EODs induced at body parts close to the object relative to unaffected body parts further away.
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JOURNAL ARTICLE| 15 May 1999
Active electrolocation of objects in weakly electric fish
G. von der Emde
Online Issn: 1477-9145
Print Issn: 0022-0949
© 1999 by Company of Biologists
J Exp Biol (1999) 202 (10): 1205–1215.
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G. von der Emde; Active electrolocation of objects in weakly electric fish. J Exp Biol 15 May 1999; 202 (10): 1205–1215. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.202.10.1205
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