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Electric Communication: Functions in the Social Behavior of Eigenmannia Virescens

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Eigenmannia virescens was observed in aquaria in Guyana, South America, during the non-breeding and breeding seasons. Agonistic behavior was described and correlated with electrical activity. Variations in the electric discharges play important roles in agonistic behavior as displays given during attack and retreat. Although descriptions of sexual behavior are not complete, certain electrical signals also appear to be used in courtship. The role of electrical signals in agonistic behavior of Eigemnannia were studied by (1) an analysis of the behavior of fish in dominant and subordinate roles, (2) an analysis of the simultaneous occurrence of electrical displays and motor actions, (3) an analysis of preceding actions of one fish and following actions of the other fish, and (4) analysis of responses to artificial electrical stimuli. These studies indicate that at least three classes of electric signals are important in communication among Eigenmannia: the normal discharge, Interruptions, and Rises. The normal discharge. The normal discharge of Eigenmannia virescens is species-distinctive in the area where this study was conducted. Playback of recorded signals and presentation of sinusoidal electrical stimuli, indicates that the normal discharge particularly the fundamental frequency of the normal discharge (240 to 600 Hz)- is used in species recognition. Males and females overlap extensively in their discharge frequency, and males do not appear to distinguish the electric discharges of males from those of females. Interruptions. Interruptions are brief cessations of the electric discharge. They are most often 20 to 40 msec in duration during agonistic interactions whereas they are often 60 to 80 msec when given by males during interactions with females during the breeding season. Interruptions are usually given in bouts where a bout is any group of Interruptions separated by less than 1.5 seconds. Interruptions are given almost exclusively by dominant fish. They are given at the same time as Attacks, Threats, and No Action, but rarely during Retreat. Bouts with many Interruptions are more likely to be associated with Attacks, and less likely with No Action, than are bouts containing only a few Interruptions. Interruptions correlate with motivation to Attack, and the number of Interruptions in a bout correlates with the probability of attack. Interruptions in one fish are followed by Retreat and No Action in the other fish, thus they appear to be an effective threat display. Interruptions with long durations are given at high repetition rates by male Eigenmannia in the presence of females during the breeding season, thus they may play a role in courtship. Rises. A Rise is an increase in discharge frequency followed by a decrease to the resting frequency. Rises lasting less than two seconds (Short Rises) are often given by dominant fish in agonistic interactions, most often at the same time as Attacks or Threats. They are given rarely. Long Rises (longer than two seconds) are given predominantly by subordinate fish in agonistic interactions. They are given simultaneous with Retreat and No Action and are thus an indicator of submissive behavior. Long Rises in one fish are followed by Attacks, Threats, Approaches, and by No Action in the other. During the breeding season, females, in the presence of males, often give long series of frequency modulations of unknown significance.

Affiliations: 1: The Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y., USA


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