Diversity of sexual dimorphism in electrocommunication signals and its androgen regulation in a genus of electric fish, Apteronotus

J Comp Physiol A. 1998 Jul;183(1):77-86. doi: 10.1007/s003590050236.


Gymnotiform electric fish emit an electric organ discharge that, in several species, is sexually dimorphic and functions in gender recognition. In addition, some species produce frequency modulations of the electric organ discharge, known as chirps, that are displayed during aggression and courtship. We report that two congeneric species (Apteronotus leptorhynchus and A. albifrons) differ in the expression of sexual dimorphism in these signals. In A. leptorhynchus, males chirp more than females, but in A. albifrons chirping is monomorphic. The gonadosomatic index and plasma levels of 11-ketotestosterone were equivalent in both species, suggesting that they were in similar reproductive condition. Corresponding to this difference in dimorphism, A. leptorhynchus increases chirping in response to androgens, but chirping in A. albifrons is insensitive to implants of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone or 11-ketotestosterone. Species also differ in the sexual dimorphism and androgen sensitivity of electric organ discharge frequency. In A. leptorhynchus, male discharge at higher frequencies than females, and androgens increase electric organ discharge frequency. In A. albifrons, males discharge at lower frequencies than females, and androgens decrease electronic organ discharge frequency. Thus, in both chirping and electric organ discharge frequency, evolutionary changes in the presence or direction of sexual dimorphism have been accompanied and perhaps caused by changes in the androgen regulation of the electric organ discharge.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / pharmacology
  • Androgens / physiology*
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Dihydrotestosterone / pharmacology
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / drug effects
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Orchiectomy
  • Ovariectomy
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Testosterone / analogs & derivatives
  • Testosterone / pharmacology


  • Androgens
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Testosterone
  • 11-ketotestosterone