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Ontogenetic development of auditory sensitivity and sound production in the squeaker catfish Synodontis schoutedeni

Walter Lechner*, Lidia Eva Wysocki and Friedrich Ladich

Author Affiliations

University of Vienna, Department of Behavioural Biology, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria

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BMC Biology 2010, 8:10  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-10

Published: 29 January 2010



Surveys of ontogenetic development of hearing and sound production in fish are scarce, and the ontogenetic development of acoustic communication has been investigated in only two fish species so far. Studies on the labyrinth fish Trichopsis vittata and the toadfish Halobatrachus didactylus show that the ability to detect conspecific sounds develops during growth. In otophysine fish, which are characterized by Weberian ossicles and improved hearing sensitivities, the ontogenetic development of sound communication has never been investigated. We analysed the ontogeny of the auditory sensitivity and vocalizations in the mochokid catfish Synodontis schoutedeni. Mochokid catfishes of the genus Synodontis are commonly called squeakers because they produce broadband stridulation sounds during abduction and adduction of pectoral fin spines. Fish from six different size groups - from 22 mm standard length to 126 mm - were studied. Hearing thresholds were measured between 50 Hz and 6 kHz using the auditory evoked potentials recording technique; stridulation sounds were recorded and their sound pressure levels determined. Finally, absolute sound power spectra were compared to auditory sensitivity curves within each size group.


The smallest juveniles showed the poorest hearing abilities of all size groups between 50 and 1,000 Hz and highest hearing sensitivity at 5 and 6 kHz. The duration of abduction and adduction sounds and the pulse period increased and sound pressure level (in animals smaller than 58 mm) increased, while the dominant frequency of sounds decreased with size in animals larger than 37 mm. Comparisons between audiograms and sound spectra revealed that the most sensitive frequencies correlate with the dominant frequencies of stridulation sounds in all S. schoutedeni size groups and that all specimens are able to detect sounds of all size groups.


This study on the squeaker catfish S. schoutedeni is the first to demonstrate that absolute hearing sensitivity changes during ontogeny in an otophysine fish. This contrasts with prior studies on two cypriniform fish species in which no such change could be observed. Furthermore, S. schoutedeni can detect conspecific sounds at all stages of development, again contrasting with prior findings in fishes.