Infrastructure in the electric sense: admittance data from shark hydrogels

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2005 Feb;191(2):115-23. doi: 10.1007/s00359-004-0579-3. Epub 2004 Nov 20.


Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) possess an electrosensory system with an infrastructure of canals connecting the electrosensors to the environment. The electrosensors and canals are filled with a uniform hydrogel, but the gel's function has not yet been determined. We present electrical admittance spectra collected from the hydrogel from 0.05 to 100 kHz, covering the effective range of the electrosensors. We have taken samples of this gel, postmortem, from Triaenodon obesus and Carcharodon carcharias; for purposes of comparison, we have synthesized a series of collagen-based hydrogel samples. The shark hydrogels demonstrate suppressed admittance when compared to both seawater and collagen gels. In particular, collagen hydrogels with equivalent ion concentrations are roughly 2.5 times more polarizable than the shark samples. We conclude that the shark hydrogels strongly localize ionic species, and we discuss the implications for the related roles of the gel and the canals in the electric sense. The gel-filled canals appear better suited to fostering voltage differences along their length than to providing direct electrical contact to the seawater environment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Capacitance
  • Electric Impedance
  • Electric Organ / chemistry*
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Hydrogels / analysis*
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • Sharks / classification
  • Sharks / physiology*
  • Species Specificity


  • Hydrogels