The effects of captivity on the electric organ discharge and plasma hormone levels in Gnathonemus petersii (Mormyriformes)

J Comp Physiol A. 1993 May;172(5):619-31. doi: 10.1007/BF00213684.


1. Experiment 1 employed a repeated measures design to examine the effects of captivity on sex differences in the electric organ discharge (EOD) of Gnathonemus petersii, newly imported from Africa, and maintained individually or in groups. 2. On the day of import, males exhibited longer durations of phases 2 and 3 of the EOD and lower peak power spectral frequencies (PPSFs) than females. 3. After 14 days in captivity in the laboratory, the sex differences were eliminated. After 37 days of captivity, all sex differences were still abolished, or even reversed depending on housing conditions. Males exhibited the most dramatic changes in EODs and females appeared to have higher testosterone (T) levels than males. 4. Experiment 2 was designed to investigate the effects of captivity on both behavior and endocrine status in 58 newly imported males. In this independent group design, EOD data and blood were collected from subjects over 15 days. 5. Decreases in phase 3 of the EOD and increases in PPSFs progressed over the 15 day experimental period, becoming statistically significant by days 10 and 15, respectively. Regardless of housing conditions, both T and 11-keto T dramatically decreased to near non-detectable levels by Day 5 in the laboratory. 6. Captivity causes rapid and profound changes in the endocrine system which result in dramatic changes in steroid-sensitive EODs. These findings directly link captivity, hormones, and behavior, and show why feral animals brought into captivity usually do not exhibit sexual behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / blood
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Hormones / blood*
  • Male
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Androgens
  • Hormones
  • Testosterone