Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 160, Issue 1, pp 89-97

First online:

Control of a teleost social signal

I. Neural basis for differential expression of a color pattern
  • Linda E. MuskeAffiliated withInstitute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon
  • , Russell D. FernaldAffiliated withInstitute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Territorial maleHaplochromis burtoni (Teleostei; Cichlidae) have a dark facial stripe, the ‘eyebar’, which can appear and disappear within seconds, independently of other coloration patterns. It is used to signal territory ownership and aggressive intent. Some males, called ‘barless’, have functional melanophores in the eyebar region but never display this pattern, because melanin in eyebar pigment cells is never dispersed.

The eyebar melanophores are controlled by a specialized branch of the maxillary nerve. Lesioning the ‘eyebar nerve’ resulted in immediate melanin dispersion and consequent darkening of the eyebar pattern, and it abolished the normal paling response in all behavioral situations. Nerve lesion produced similar results in both barred and barless males, except that the coloration of the denervated eyebar in barless males was more similar to camouflage markings than to the conspicuous black eyebar used as a social signal.

Electrical stimulation of the maxillary nerve produced melanin aggregation. Photoelectric recordings of this paling response revealed no differences between barred and barless males, or between the eyebar and other facial chromatophores that do not function as visual displays. Thus, the difference in the physiological state of eyebar melanophores in intact barred and barless males cannot be explained by differences in peripheral nerve anatomy or physiology.