Otolith morphology and hearing abilities in cave- and surface-dwelling ecotypes of the Atlantic molly, Poecilia mexicana (Teleostei: Poeciliidae)

Hear Res. 2010 Aug;267(1-2):137-48. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2010.04.001. Epub 2010 Apr 27.


Cave fish have rarely been investigated with regard to their inner ear morphology, hearing abilities, and acoustic communication. Based on a previous study that revealed morphological differences in the saccular otolith between a cave and two surface populations of Poecilia mexicana, we checked for additional differences in utricular and lagenar otoliths and tested whether different populations have similar hearing sensitivities. We found pronounced differences in the shape of all three otoliths. Otoliths of the saccule and lagena from cave fish differed from those of surface fish in the features of the face oriented towards the sensory epithelium. In addition, otoliths of the utricle and lagena were significantly heavier in cave fish. Auditory sensitivities were measured between 100 and 1500Hz, utilizing the auditory evoked potential recording technique. We found similar hearing abilities in cave and surface fish, with greatest sensitivity between 200 and 300Hz. An acoustic survey revealed that neither ecotype produced species-specific sounds. Our data indicate that cave dwelling altered the otolith morphology in Atlantic mollies, probably due to metabolic differences. Different otolith morphology, however, did not affect general auditory sensitivity or acoustic behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Darkness
  • Ecosystem*
  • Female
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Light
  • Male
  • Otolithic Membrane / anatomy & histology*
  • Otolithic Membrane / physiology*
  • Poecilia / anatomy & histology*
  • Poecilia / classification
  • Poecilia / physiology*
  • Species Specificity