Mormyrid electric fish use sounds for communication and have unusual ears. Each ear has a small gas-filled tympanic bladder coupled to the sacculus. Although it has long been thought that this gas-filled structure confers acoustic pressure sensitivity, this has never been evaluated experimentally. We examined tone detection thresholds by measuring behavioral responses to sounds in normal fish and in fish with manipulations to one or to both of the tympanic bladders. We found that the tympanic bladders increase auditory sensitivity by approximately 30 dB in the middle of the animal's hearing range (200–1200 Hz). Normal fish had their best tone detection thresholds in the range 400–500 Hz, with thresholds of approximately 60 dB (re 1 microPa). When the gas was displaced from the bladders with physiological saline, the animals showed a dramatic loss of auditory sensitivity. In contrast, control animals in which only one bladder was manipulated or in which a sham operation had been performed on both sides had normal hearing.
Acoustic detection by sound-producing fishes (Mormyridae): the role of gas-filled tympanic bladders
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L.B. Fletcher, J.D. Crawford; Acoustic detection by sound-producing fishes (Mormyridae): the role of gas-filled tympanic bladders. J Exp Biol 15 January 2001; 204 (2): 175–183. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.204.2.175
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