Fish otolith mass asymmetry: morphometry and influence on acoustic functionality

Hear Res. 2005 Mar;201(1-2):55-69. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2004.08.017.


The role of the fish otolith mass asymmetry in acoustic functionality is studied. The saccular, lagenar and utricular otoliths are weighted in two species of the Black Sea rays, 15 species of the Black Sea teleost fish and guppy fish. The dimensionless otolith mass asymmetry chi is calculated as ratio of the difference between masses of the right and left paired otoliths to average otolith mass. In the most fish studied the otolith mass asymmetry is within the range of -0.2 < chi < +0.2 (< 20%). We do not find specific fish species with extremely large or extremely small otolith asymmetry. The large otoliths do not belong solely to any particular side, left or right. The heavier otoliths of different otolithic organs can be located in different labyrinths. No relationship has been found between the magnitude of the otolith mass asymmetry and the length (mass, age) of the animal. The suggested fluctuation model of the otolith growth can interpret these results. The model supposes that the otolith growth rate varies slightly hither and thither during lifetime of the individual fish. Therefore, the sign of the relative otolith mass asymmetry can change several times in the process of the individual fish growth but within the range outlined above. Mathematical modeling shows that acoustic functionality (sensitivity, temporal processing, sound localization) of the fish can be disturbed by the otolith mass asymmetry. But this is valid only for the fish with largest otolith masses, characteristic of the bottom and littoral fish, and with highest otolith asymmetry. For most fish the values of otolith mass asymmetry is well below critical values. Thus, the most fish get around the troubles related to the otolith mass asymmetry. We suggest that a specific physicochemical mechanism of the paired otolith growth that maintains the otolith mass asymmetry at the lowest possible level should exist. However, the principle and details of this mechanism are still far from being understood.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / veterinary
  • Models, Biological
  • Otolithic Membrane / anatomy & histology*
  • Otolithic Membrane / physiology
  • Otolithic Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Poecilia / anatomy & histology
  • Poecilia / physiology
  • Skates, Fish / anatomy & histology
  • Skates, Fish / physiology