Among teleosts, only representatives of several tropical catfish families have evolved two sonic organs: pectoral spines for stridulation and swimbladder drumming muscles. Pectoral mechanisms differ in relative size between pimelodids, mochokids and doradids, whereas swimbladder mechanisms exhibit differences in origin and insertion of extrinsic muscles. Differences in vocalization among families were investigated by comparing distress calls in air and underwater. High frequency broad-band pulsed sounds of similar duration were emitted during abduction of pectoral spines in all three families. Adduction sounds were similar to abduction signals in doradids, shorter and of lower sound pressure in mochokids, and totally lacking in pimelodids. Simultaneously or successively with pectoral sounds, low frequency harmonic drumming sounds were produced by representatives of two families. Drumming sounds were of similar intensity as stridulatory sounds in pimelodids, fainter in doradids, and not present in mochokids. Swimbladder sounds were frequency modulated and the fundamental frequency was similar in pimelodids and doradids. The ratio of stridulatory to drumming sound amplitude was higher in air than underwater in both doradids and one of the pimelodids. Also, overall duration of pectoral sounds, compared to swimbladder sounds, was longer in air than underwater in one doradid and pimelodid species. This first comparison of vocalization within one major teleost order demonstrates a wide variation in occurrence, duration, intensity and spectral content of sounds and indicates family- and species-specific as well as context- (receiver-) dependent patterns of vocalization.
catfishes, distress calls, family-typical vocalization, stridulation, drumming sounds