Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fish Hum, Grunt, and Growl to Get Their Message Across

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fish Hum, Grunt, and Growl to Get Their Message Across

Article excerpt

It's only a humble hum or an undistinguished grunt or growl. But to a midshipman fish, it's effective social communication. Hums help the boys get the girls. Grunts and growls warn off would be trespassers.

Scientists have studied animal communication for decades. Now, for the first time, a research team has traced the underlying neurobiology that makes the fish talk possible.

It's an early step in an emerging research field that seeks insight into the evolution of behavior from the perspective of neurobiology. In recent years, visiting scientists have pursued this quest at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass. Last week, MBL reported the results of work by Andrew Bass of Cornell University, Edwin Gilland of Howard University, and Robert Baker of New York University.

According to MBL, the researchers have shown "that the sophisticated neural circuitry that midshipman [fish] use to vocalize develops in a similar region of the central nervous system as the circuitry that allows a human to laugh or a frog to croak."

The research team also published technical details of its work last week in the journal Science. If you want to hear the fishes' hums, grunts, and growls go to mbl.edu/news and click on the press release about "When fish talk." It has links to the sound files.

The scientists are after more than an understanding of how the midshipman and its close relative the toadfish can "talk." Dr. Bass notes that vocal communication probably is widespread among fishes. Fish account for nearly half of vertebrate species living today. The evolution of the neurobiology underlying auditory fish communication sheds light on the evolution of communication skills of the rest of us vertebrates. …

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