Non-visual environmental imaging and object detection through active electrolocation in weakly electric fish

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2006 Jun;192(6):601-12. doi: 10.1007/s00359-006-0096-7. Epub 2006 Jan 28.


Weakly electric fish orient at night by employing active electrolocation. South American and African species emit electric signals and perceive the consequences of these emissions with epidermal electroreceptors. Objects are detected by analyzing the electric images which they project onto the animal's electroreceptive skin surface. Electric images depend on size, distance, shape, and material of objects and on the morphology of the electric organ and the fish's body. It is proposed that the mormyrid Gnathonemus petersii possesses two electroreceptive "foveae" at its Schnauzenorgan and its nasal region, both of which resemble the visual fovea in the retina of many animals in design, function, and behavioral use. Behavioral experiments have shown that G. petersii can determine the resistive and capacitive components of an object's complex impedance in order to identify prey items during foraging. In addition, fish can measure the distance and three-dimensional shape of objects. In order to determine object properties during active electrolocation, the fish have to determine at least four parameters of the local signal within an object's electric image: peak amplitude, maximal slope, image width, and waveform distortions. A crucial parameter is the object distance, which is essential for unambiguous evaluation of object properties.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Distance Perception / physiology*
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Models, Biological
  • Sensory Receptor Cells
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*