Rapid elevations in both steroid hormones and vocal signaling during playback challenge: a field experiment in Gulf toadfish

Horm Behav. 2005 Mar;47(3):297-305. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2004.11.017. Epub 2005 Jan 16.


It is well known that plasma androgens are rapidly released in response to aggressive or sexual stimuli in a broad array of vertebrates. However, experimental work on behavioral functions of rapid androgen elevation is rare. A combination of field-based behavioral experiments and lab-based neuroendocrinological approaches is beginning to show how steroid hormones rapidly regulate the expression of vocal communication signals in Gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta). Male toadfish emit multiharmonic "boatwhistles" and shorter-duration, broadband "grunts" during intraspecific communication. Neurophysiology experiments demonstrate that androgens and glucocorticoids rapidly modify vocal motor patterning in male toadfish. In this study, we simulated territorial intrusions (vocal "challenges") with acoustic playbacks to toadfish in the field, and observed simultaneous, rapid (within 5-20 min) changes in vocalizations and steroid hormones. Both plasma androgens and vocal activity increased following the presentation of pure tones that mimic the duration of natural boatwhistles (275 ms), while they remained unchanged following playbacks of tone stimuli that mimic the duration of grunts (75 ms) or the upper-range of boatwhistles (475 ms). Circulating glucocorticoids were elevated in calling vs. non-calling males but were unaffected by playback stimuli, suggesting a role in the energetics of vocalization. These results strongly suggest that one function of rapid androgen elevation in response to social challenge is to mediate similarly rapid changes in territorial vocal signaling. Given the conserved organization of neuroendocrine and vocal motor systems, rapid steroid action on vocalization mechanisms may be true of other vocal vertebrates as well, including birds and mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Batrachoidiformes / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Steroids / blood*
  • Testosterone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Steroids
  • Testosterone
  • 11-ketotestosterone
  • Hydrocortisone