Both sexes produce sounds in vocal fish species: testing the hypothesis in the pygmy gourami (labyrinth fishes) [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Noemie Liesch and Friedrich Ladich

In vocal fish species, males possess larger sound-generating organs and signal acoustically with pronounced sex-specific differences. Sound production is known in two out of three species of croaking gouramis (Trichopsis vittata and T. schalleri). The present study investigates sex-specific differences in sonic organs, vocalizing behaviour and sounds emitted in the third species, the pygmy gourami, T. pumila, in order to test the hypothesis that females are able to vocalize despite their less-developed sonic organs, and despite contradictory reports. Croaking gouramis stretch and pluck two enhanced (sonic) pectoral fin tendons during alternate fin beating, resulting in a series of double-pulsed bursts, termed croaking sound. We measured the diameter of the first and second sonic tendon and showed that male tendons were twice as large as in similar-sized females. We also determined the duration of dyadic contests, visual displays, number of sounds and buttings. Sexes differ in all sound characteristics but in no behavioural variable. Male sounds consisted of twice as many bursts, a higher percentage of double-pulsed bursts and a higher burst period. Additionally, male sounds had a lower dominant frequency and a higher sound level. In summary, female pygmy gouramis possessed sonic organs and vocalized in most dyadic contests. The sexual dimorphism in sonic tendons is clearly reflected in sex-specific differences in sound characteristics, but not in agonistic behaviour, supporting the hypothesis that females are vocal.

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