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Sexual dimorphism of sonic apparatus and extreme intersexual variation of sounds in Ophidion rochei (Ophidiidae): first evidence of a tight relationship between morphology and sound characteristics in Ophidiidae

Loïc Kéver1*, Kelly S Boyle1, Branko Dragičević2, Jakov Dulčić2, Margarida Casadevall3 and Eric Parmentier1

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire de Morphologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Institut de chimie, Bât. B6c, Université de Liège, B-4000, Liège, Belgium

2 Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, POB 500, 21000, Split, Croatia

3 Grup de Biologia Animal, Facultat de Ciències, Universitat de Girona, Campus de Montilivi, 17071, Girona, Spain

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Frontiers in Zoology 2012, 9:34  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-9-34

Published: 6 December 2012

Abstract

Background

Many Ophidiidae are active in dark environments and display complex sonic apparatus morphologies. However, sound recordings are scarce and little is known about acoustic communication in this family. This paper focuses on Ophidion rochei which is known to display an important sexual dimorphism in swimbladder and anterior skeleton. The aims of this study were to compare the sound producing morphology, and the resulting sounds in juveniles, females and males of O. rochei.

Results

Males, females, and juveniles possessed different morphotypes. Females and juveniles contrasted with males because they possessed dramatic differences in morphology of their sonic muscles, swimbladder, supraoccipital crest, and first vertebrae and associated ribs. Further, they lacked the ‘rocker bone’ typically found in males. Sounds from each morphotype were highly divergent. Males generally produced non harmonic, multiple-pulsed sounds that lasted for several seconds (3.5 ± 1.3 s) with a pulse period of ca. 100 ms. Juvenile and female sounds were recorded for the first time in ophidiids. Female sounds were harmonic, had shorter pulse period (±3.7 ms), and never exceeded a few dozen milliseconds (18 ± 11 ms). Moreover, unlike male sounds, female sounds did not have alternating long and short pulse periods. Juvenile sounds were weaker but appear to be similar to female sounds.

Conclusions

Although it is not possible to distinguish externally male from female in O. rochei, they show a sonic apparatus and sounds that are dramatically different. This difference is likely due to their nocturnal habits that may have favored the evolution of internal secondary sexual characters that help to distinguish males from females and that could facilitate mate choice by females. Moreover, the comparison of different morphotypes in this study shows that these morphological differences result from a peramorphosis that takes place during the development of the gonads.

Keywords:
Ophidiidae; Sound production; Sexual dimorphism