Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 2, pp 159–173 | Cite as

Electric interactions through chirping behavior in the weakly electric fish, Apteronotus leptorhynchus

  • G. K. H. Zupanc
  • R. F. Sîrbulescu
  • A. Nichols
  • I. Ilies
Original Paper


The weakly electric fish Apteronotus leptorhynchus produces wave-like electric organ discharges distinguished by a high degree of regularity. Transient amplitude and frequency modulations (“chirps”) can be evoked in males by stimulation with the electric field of a conspecific. During these interactions, the males examined in this study produced six types of chirps, including two novel ones. Stimulation of a test fish with a conspecific at various distances showed that two electrically interacting fish must be within 10 cm of each other to evoke chirping behavior in the neighboring fish. The chirp rate of all but one chirp type elicited by the neighboring fish was found to be negatively correlated with the absolute value of the frequency difference between the two interacting fish, but independent of the sign of this difference. Correlation analysis of the instantaneous rates of chirp occurrence revealed two modes of interactions characterized by reciprocal stimulation and reciprocal inhibition. Further analysis of the temporal relationship between the chirps generated by the two fish during electric interactions showed that the chirps generated by one individual follow the chirps of the other with a short latency of approximately 500–1000 ms. We hypothesize that this “echo response” serves a communicatory function.


Electric fish Electrocommunication Chirps Echo response Apteronotus leptorhynchus 



Frequency of partner fish’s electric organ discharge minus frequency of test fish’s electric organ discharge


Electric organ discharge



We thank Louise A. Hurst and Daniela Meissner for technical assistance, as well as Marianne M. Zupanc and the two anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript. The experiments were conducted according to the Deutsches Tierschutzgesetz (German Animal Protection Law) of 1998. Financial support for this study was provided by funds of the International University Bremen to G.K.H. Zupanc.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. K. H. Zupanc
    • 1
  • R. F. Sîrbulescu
    • 1
  • A. Nichols
    • 1
  • I. Ilies
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Engineering and ScienceInternational University BremenBremenGermany

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