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Short-range orientation in electric fish: an experimental study of passive electrolocation

, : Short-range orientation in electric fish: an experimental study of passive electrolocation. Journal of Experimental Biology 199(Pt 11): 2383-2393

Gymnotiform electric fish are capable of locating and approaching an electrically discharging conspecific over a range of 1-2 m in a behavior called passive electrolocation. This paper investigates the movements of two species in experiments with approaches to stationary dipoles that are either silenced or jumped to a new direction during an approach. Gymnotus carapo fail to find an electrode source in trials in which the dipole electrode is switched off in mid-track. They slow their approach, become disoriented and drift away from the target within seconds of the field being switched off. This result suggests that the fish are unable to construct a cognitive map of a dipole source from brief exposure to local electrosensory stimuli. The second set of trials shows that Brachyhypopomus diazi and Gymnotus carapo bend their body to track electric vectors which are suddenly jumped to a new direction. The latency of the bend response is 0.5 s after the jump. Bending initiates a turn that reduces to zero the error between the fish's direction and the electric field vector and helps keep the fish aligned with the local electric field vector. Together, these experiments suggest that passive electrolocation is stimulus-bound and that these fish find the electrical sources simply by tracking instantaneous local electric current vectors.


PMID: 9114503

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