Functional morphology of the sonic apparatus in the fawn cusk-eel Lepophidium profundorum (Gill, 1863)

J Morphol. 2007 Nov;268(11):953-66. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10551.


Recent reports of high frequency sound production by cusk-eels cannot be explained adequately by known mechanisms, i.e., a forced response driven by fast sonic muscles on the swimbladder. Time to complete a contraction-relaxation cycle places a ceiling on frequency and is unlikely to explain sounds with dominant frequencies above 1 kHz. We investigated sonic morphology in the fawn cusk-eel Lepophidium profundorum to determine morphology potentially associated with high frequency sound production and quantified development and sexual dimorphism of sonic structures. Unlike other sonic systems in fishes in which muscle relaxation is caused by internal pressure or swimbladder elasticity, this system utilizes antagonistic pairs of muscles: ventral and intermediate muscles pull the winglike process and swimbladder forward and pivot the neural arch (neural rocker) above the first vertebra backward. This action stretches a fenestra in the swimbladder wall and imparts strain energy to epineural ribs, tendons and ligaments connected to the anterior swimbladder. Relatively short antagonistic dorsal and dorsomedial muscles pull on the neural rocker, releasing strain energy, and use a lever advantage to restore the winglike process and swimbladder to their resting position. Sonic components grow isometrically and are typically larger in males although the tiny intermediate muscles are larger in females. Although external morphology is relatively conservative in ophidiids, sonic morphology is extremely variable within the family.

MeSH terms

  • Air Sacs / anatomy & histology*
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Fishes / growth & development
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Organ Size
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sound*