Adult males of African weakly discharging electric fish (family: Mormyridae) are distinguished from juveniles and adult females by a dorsally directed indentation of the posterior ventral body wall and by massive bone expansion of the bases of a select number of anal-fin rays. These sexually dimorphic structures seem to facilitate the anal-fin reflex that is displayed during courtship when the male envelopes its anal fin around the female's to form a common spawning pouch. Expanded bone could provide additional surface for muscle attachment and thus assist in part with the courtship sequence. Based on the fact that the expression of the male sexually dimorphic electric organ discharge (EOD) is under androgen control, and that the female EOD can be masculinized through testosterone administration, we hypothesized that androgens should also drive anal-fin ray bone expansion in male mormyrids and equally effect male-like changes in treated juveniles and adult females. Exogenous androgen treatment (17alpha-methyltestosterone) of adult female Brienomyrus niger resulted in a male-like EOD, and male-typical structural transformations (body wall indentation and anal-fin ray bone expansion). Some of these changes were immediate and receded following hormone withdrawal (EOD), while others developed more slowly and were apparently permanent (indentation and bone formation). 17alpha-Methyltestosterone administration affected only those targets in females that are normally involved in the male's reproductive behavior, i.e., its courtship signal (EOD) and two morphological features (body-wall indentation and bone expansion). Rays of the dorsal or caudal fins were never affected.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.