The freshwater paddlefish Polyodon spathula (Polyodontidae) feeds primarily on the water flea (Daphnia sp.), and previous studies suggest that these fish detect their planktonic prey using their rostral electrosensory system. Zooplankton produce direct-current and oscillating alternating-current electric fields containing multiple frequencies and amplitudes. We asked whether an inanimate electric field is sufficient to elicit paddlefish strikes equivalent to their feeding behavior. Juvenile paddlefish respond to artificial dipole stimuli by investigating the electric field and striking at the dipole electrode tips. These behavioral responses, scored as strikes, exhibit a bandpass characteristic with a maximum response between 5 and 15 Hz. Responses were less frequent at higher (20, 30, 40, 50 Hz) and lower (0.1, 0.5, 1 Hz) test frequencies, with a steep drop-off below 5 Hz. Strike rates also varied with stimulus intensity. Response frequency was greatest at 0.25 microA peak-to-peak amplitude, with reduced responses at lower and higher amplitudes (0.125 and 1.25 microA). Striking behavior was also influenced by water conductivity: strike rate was reduced at higher water conductivity. Dipole-elicited strikes exhibit behavioral plasticity. Fish habituate to repetitive dipole stimuli that are not reinforced by prey capture, and they dishabituate after food reinforcement. These experiments characterize paddlefish feeding strikes towards dipole electrodes at signal frequencies and intensities simulating the electric fields of zooplankton, their natural prey, and demonstrate that electric fields are sufficient to elicit feeding behavior. The results support the conclusion that paddlefish use their passive electrosensory system for planktivorous feeding.
Paddlefish strike at artificial dipoles simulating the weak electric fields of planktonic prey
W. Wojtenek, X. Pei, L.A. Wilkens; Paddlefish strike at artificial dipoles simulating the weak electric fields of planktonic prey. J Exp Biol 15 April 2001; 204 (8): 1391–1399. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.204.8.1391
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