Fish Cod-Munication

Want to talk to animals? It might not take Dr. Doolittle!  

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

When we give a presentation, a pause is important for … EMPHASIS! But could the dramatic pause be meaningful for animal communication, too? 

Enter Tsunehiko Kohashi and team from Washington University St. Louis. They study fish called mormyrids. These fish produce electric organ discharges, or EODs, to communicate and sense their surroundings. 

To observe fish COD-versation, the scientists compared natural EODs of fish housed alone and in pairs. Next, they explored how solo fish respond to pauses with… a game of telephone! They gave fish artificial signals and pauses while tracking their tail movements. 

Results? Solo swimmers had mostly constant banter. Meanwhile paired pals took TWO TIMES as many pauses while chatting. These pauses were TWICE as long as solo-swimmer chitchat. 

The researchers believe that pauses in communication are o-FISH-ally important. For fish, humans AND other species! 

So remember to take the pause that refreshes – the conversation!

Reference: Kohashi, T., Lube, A. J., Yang, J. H., Roberts-Gaddipati, P. S., & Carlson, B. A. (2021). Pauses during communication release behavioral habituation through recovery from synaptic depression. Current Biology.

Photo credit: Robert Lewis, IT Catalysts, Inc.