ArticlePDF Available

Soniferous behaviour of the striped cusk-eel Ophidon marginatum

  • The Fish Listener


We conducted a preliminary study of the reproductive behaviour and soniferous activity of the striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum. Three female (225-263 mm TL) and six male (160-193 mm TL) cusk-eels were held in a flow-through tank under ambient conditions from 22 July - 22 September 1989. Cusk-eels remained burrowed during the day and emerged at sunset at the onset of courtship and spawning behaviour. All spawning was completed within 2-h after sunset. Eggs were encased in a clear gelatinous mass that gradually expanded until breaking up after about 24 hours. Eggs hatched in 36 hours. The male cusk-eels produced croaking sounds before and during courtship and spawning. Calling was often initiated while cusk-eels were still partially or entirely burrowed. Sounds consisted of 1-27 pulses between 500 and 1800 Hz. These sounds have previously been described as "chatter" from field recordings and were mistakenly attributed to the weakfish, Cynoscion regalis. Field recordings of cusk-eel choruses were made during August and September 2000. Calling began just before sunset and subsided within 2-h after sunset in agreement with our laboratory observations. Also see
... Some Ophidiiform species (e.g., Ophidion marginatum) are known to use sound during courtship behaviour (Rountree & Bowers-Altman 2002). Based on observations of Ophidium spp., Breder & Rosen (1966) postulated that the gas bladders attached to the ribs and vertebral column of ling were "used by the male to produce sounds of significance in courtship and mating activities", but this has yet to be confirmed for this species. ...
... Species of Genypterus and other Ophidiiformes have been regularly described as fish that created burrows in soft substrates. Some of these reports were clearly based on actual observations of the behaviour (e.g., Rountree & Bowers-Altman 2002), and videos of cusk eels burrowing are available (e.g., Rountree 2003). Evidence-based studies of this behaviour appeared to be most abundant for cusk eels of the genera Ophidion and Chilaria, and it was probably a means of predator avoidance or hiding to ambush prey. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This report aims to review the available literature and data on ling (Genypterus blacodes), primarily to provide synopses on the biology and life history of the species from worldwide sources, but also to provide references should the reader wish to investigate particular aspects in more detail.
... Striped cusk eels (Ophidion marginatum) inhabit coastal waters on the US East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida (Nielsen et al. 1999). These demersal fish typically remain burrowed in the substrate during the day, and emerge at night to spawn (Mann et al. 1997;Rountree and Bowers-Altman 2002). They produce 'chattering' calls directly synchronized with spawning. ...
... We observed distinct diel patterns in fish calling closely tied to sunrise and sunset. Cusk eels created choruses immediately before sunrise and after sunset, similar to behaviour observed elsewhere (Rountree and Bowers-Altman 2002;Mooney et al. 2016). Toadfish detections became increasingly common after sunrise, which was also observed in toadfish in Chesapeake Bay, MD, USA (Ricci et al. 2017). ...
Passive acoustic recordings were made at two sites over a four-month period in eelgrass beds in a shallow estuary (Shinnecock Bay, New York, USA). Recordings were dominated by mating calls of striped cusk eels (Ophidion marginatum) at one site, and oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau) mating calls at the other. Cusk eel call characteristics (frequency and pulse period) varied significantly with time and water temperature. Fundamental frequency of toadfish calls decreased over the recording period and was not correlated with water temperature. We developed and tested automated detection algorithms to identify choruses using band-limited sound pressure levels. Distinct diel peaks in sound production were observed, with cusk eels producing morning and evening choruses, and toadfish calling mostly during daytime. Several physical and environmental variables were significantly correlated with the presence of cusk eel and toadfish choruses such as water temperature, tide state, and moon phase. The temporal variation in sound production and call characteristics differed from other studies, suggesting geographical variations in the acoustic behaviour of both species. Passive acoustic techniques can identify the location and timing of reproductive events for cryptic species that live in shallow water (<2 m) habitats, which are critical information for identification of their habitat.
... These features clearly support the importance of sonic communication in the Ophidiiformes (Fine et al., 2018(Fine et al., , 2007Nguyen et al., 2008). Since many species live in deep water (Nielsen et al., 1999) sound recordings have only been made for a few shallow species from the Carapidae (Kéver et al., 2014c;Parmentier et al., 2016aParmentier et al., , 2016bParmentier et al., , 2018bParmentier et al., , 2003 and Ophidiidae (Kéver et al., 2016Mooney et al., 2016;Rountree and Bowers-Altman, 2002). ...
... Both species produce sounds that are probably involved with courtship behavior since egg masses were found floating in the tanks. Moreover, the sonic behavior is similar to that of Ophidiiforms living in shallow water including Ophidion marginatum (Mann et al., 1997;Mann and Grothues, 2009;Rountree and Bowers-Altman, 2002), Ophidion rochei (Parmentier et al., 2010) and Onuxodon fowleri (Kéver et al., 2016(Kéver et al., , 2014c. Similar to these shallow species, sound production starts approximately 1 h after dusk, peaks 1-3 h after sunset and can last for the whole night. ...
Cusk-eels (Ophidiidae) are known sound producers, but many species live in deep water where sounds are difficult to record. For these species sonic ability has been inferred from inner anatomy. Genypterus (subfamily Ophidiinae) are demersal fishes inhabiting the continental shelf and slope at depths between 50 and 800 m. Males and females G. maculatus have been maintained together in a tank and 9 unsexed specimens of G. chilensis in a second tank, providing a valuable opportunity to record the sounds of living species usually found at great depths. Genypterus chilensis and G. maculatus respectively produced one and two sound types mainly between 7 and 10 pm. Sound 1 in Genypterus maculatus consists of trains of pulses that vary in amplitude and pulse period; call 2 sounded like a growl that results from the rapid emission of pulses that define sound 1. Genypterus chilensis produced a growl having an unusual feature since the first peak of the second pulse has always greater amplitude than all other peaks. These sounds are probably related to courtship behavior since floating eggs are found after night calls. The anatomical structures of the sound-producing organ in both species present an important panel of highly derived characters including three pairs of sonic muscles, a neural arch that pivots on the first vertebral body and a thick swimbladder with unusual features. Sonic structures are similar between species and between sexes. Therefore both biological sexes are capable of sound production although precedent from shallow ophidiids and sonic fishes in general suggests that males are more likely to produce courtship calls. This study reports two main types of information. It demonstrates that two deep-living species are capable of sound production, which is a pioneer step in the acoustic study of deep-sea fauna. Recorded sounds should also help to locate fish in open sea. As these species are currently used to diversify the aquaculture industry in Chile, deeper studies on their acoustic behavior should also help to target spawning period and to identify mature specimens.
... In the case of one of the aforementioned families (i.e., Ophidiidae), different studies on species living in shallower waters clearly support that acoustic communication is an important aspect of these species biology, which likely mediates reproductive interactions. Sound production has been reported in the striped cusk-eel (Ophidion marginatum, Ophidiidae; Mann, Bowers-Altman, & Rountree, 1997;Rountree & Bowers-Altman, 2002) and in Roche's snake blenny (Ophidion rochei Ophidiidae; Kéver, Lejeune, Michel, & Parmentier, 2016;Parmentier, Bouillac, Dragičević, Dulčić, & Fine, 2010) as well as in two species, the red cusk-eel (Genypterus chilensis, Ophidiidae) and the black cuskeel (Genypterus maculatus, Ophidiidae), which can inhabit depths between 50 and 800 m (Parmentier, Bahri, et al., 2018). Interestingly, species from coastal and deep waters possess the same kind of sound producing mechanism. ...
Covering more than 65% of the Earth surface, the deep sea (200–11,000 m depth) is the largest biotope on Earth, yet it remains largely unexplored. The biology of its communities is still poorly understood, and many species are still to be discovered. Despite this, deep‐sea fish are already threatened by our exploitation and their conservation is hampered by a severe scarcity of data. Studies focusing on fish acoustic communication are receiving growing attention in coastal areas as they provide useful information to different fields, ranging from behaviour, ecology, wild population monitoring, biodiversity assessment, fisheries and aquaculture management. Modern non‐invasive techniques such as passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) can provide high‐resolution, long‐term and large spatial scale information on populations and ecosystem dynamics in otherwise not accessible environments. Although acoustic communication of deep‐sea fish is still poorly documented, many deep‐sea species are likely to emit sounds as they possess the required anatomical structures. Here we suggest that monitoring deep‐sea fish vocal communication might help to better understand their diversity, ecology and dynamics. Emerging technologies based on PAM have the potential to provide a holistic view of the importance of acoustic communication for deep‐sea fish and, ultimately, to inform us about essential aspects for their management and protection.
... Among these, the grenadiers (Macrourinae, Gadiformes) possess large sound-producing muscles on either side of the forepart of their swimbladders (Marshall, 1967(Marshall, , 1973, similarly to several other shallowwaters Gadidae, which sound production has been characterized in details (Hawkins and Picciulin, 2019). Sound producing apparatus are also found in many deep-living cuskeels (i.e., Ophidiiformes; e.g., Fine et al., 2007;Nguyen et al., 2008;Ali et al., 2016;Parmentier et al., 2018), but sounds were recorded in few shallow water species (i.e., Ophidion marginatum, Mann et al., 1997;Bowers-Altman, 2002, andO. rochei, Parmentier et al., 2010;K ever et al., 2012;K ever et al., 2014) Electronic mail: ...
Although several bioacoustics investigations have shed light on the acoustic communication of Mediterranean fish species, the occurrence of fish sounds has never been reported below 40 m depth. This study assessed the occurrence of fish sounds at greater depths by monitoring the soundscape of a Mediterranean submarine canyon (Calvi, France) thanks to a combination of Static Acoustic Monitoring (three stations, from 125 to 150 m depth, 3 km from coastline) and of hydrophone-integrated gliders (Mobile Acoustic Monitoring; from 60 to 900 m depth, 3–6 km from coastline). Biological sounds were detected in 38% of the audio files; ten sound types (for a total of more than 9.000 sounds) with characteristics corresponding to those emitted by vocal species, or known as produced by fish activities, were found. For one of these sound types, emitter identity was inferred at the genus level (Ophidion sp.). An increase of from 10 to 15 dB re 1 lPa in sea ambient noise was observed during daytime hours due to boat traffic, potentially implying an important daytime masking effect. This study shows that monitoring the underwater soundscape of Mediterranean submarine canyons can provide holistic information needed to better understand the state and the dynamics of these heterogeneous, highly diverse environments. VC 2020 Acoustical Society of America.
... Captive cusk-eels have been observed to chorus after sunset as part of courtship and spawning behavior (Mann et al. 1997, Rountree andBowers-Altman 2002). We believe that our observations suggest widespread spawning of striped cusk-eels within estuaries of both the north and south ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Since the seminal work of Fish and Mowbray (1970), little advancement has been made towards the study of soniferous fishes from the marine waters of the Northeastern United States. A review of the literature suggests at least 51 fishes are vocal in New England waters (Table 1), although many of these species are uncommon stragglers to these waters. Spontaneous sound production is known from only about half of these species. However, laboratory studies are often hampered by the difficulty of maintaining healthy specimens, and the difficulty of inducing natural behaviors such as spawning under confinement. This is further complicated by the fact that many fish are primarily vocal during the spawning season, and may not vocalize until maturity, and because vocal behavior is usually limited to males (e.g., haddock and weakfish).The objectives of this study were to conduct a pilot field survey of soniferous fishes in Massachusetts’s waters to determine what species are vocal and examine temporal patterns in vocal behavior. However, because of the unexpected finding of widespread calls of the striped cusk-eel on Cape Cod, this paper will focus on this enigmatic species.
... The same sounds were later mistakenly attributed to the Weakfish Cynoscion regalis, due to frequent co-occurrence with known Weakfish sounds with similar frequency range and pulse structure (Fish and Mowbray 1970). However, these sounds were in fact produced by the Striped Cusk-eel Ophidion marginatum, for which sounds were first recorded in the laboratory decades later (Mann et al. 1997;Rountree and Bowers-Altman 2002). ...
The ecological importance of the freshwater soundscape is just beginning to be recognized by society. Scientists are beginning to apply Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) methods that are well established in marine systems to freshwater systems to map spatial and temporal patterns of behaviors associated with fish sounds as well as noise impacts on them. Unfortunately, these efforts are greatly hampered by a critical lack of data on the sources of sounds that make up the soundscape of freshwater habitats. A review of the literature finds that only 87 species have been reported to produce sounds in North America and Europe over the last 200 years, accounting for 5% of the known freshwater fish diversity. The problem is exacerbated by the general failure of researchers to report the detailed statistical descriptions of fish sound characteristics that are necessary to develop PAM programs. We suggest that publishers and editors should do more to encourage reporting of statistical properties of fish sounds. In addition, we call for research, academic, and government agencies to develop regional libraries of fish sounds to aid in PAM and anthropogenic noise impact studies. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Ophidiifom are known for their ability to produce sounds, a feature that is useful to identify or find conspecifics in dark environments. Because many species live in deep water, sound recordings are difficult to make and apply to only a few species from the carapid (Parmentier, Vandewalle & Lagard ere, 2003;K ever et al., 2014d) and ophidiid genera (Rountree & Bowers-Altman, 2002;K ever et al., 2014a). These studies have also underlined the required morphological adaptations related to this way of communication: Ophidiiforms have a high diversity of sound-producing mechanisms (Howes, 1992;Parmentier et al., 2006a;Nguyen et al., 2008;Fine et al., 2018). ...
Although males and females of many sound‐producing fish species may show differences at the level of the sonic apparatus, otoliths are usually species specific having intraspecific variation only if exposed to different environmental condition or in relation with the fish size. This study reports sexual dimorphism at the level of both otolith shape and sonic apparatus in the ophidiid Neobythites gilli. As it is the case in other Neobythites species, sound‐producing apparatus is better developed in males. Due to their way of life in darker or deep waters, differences at the level of the sound‐producing apparatus support more constraints related to acoustic communication for sex recognition or mate localization. Otolith modifications concern only Neobythites male specimens, whereas otolith of females are virtually unchanged when compared to sister species without sexual dimorphism, meaning this feature would not be related to sexually induced differences in calling. Differences between the otoliths of males and females could therefore be related to their way of life. Sexual dimorphism of the acoustic apparatus in Neobythities gilli show males are better callers. Unusual sexual dimorphism of the sagitta (otoliths) in Neobythities gilli. Sexual dimorphism in the hearing apparatus seems related to the way of life and not to hearing abilities.
... Species with slow muscles produce a single pulse per contraction, and contraction rate does not determine frequency within a pulse (Fine et al., 2007;Parmentier et al., 2010Parmentier et al., , 2016Mok et al., 2011;Parmentier and Fine 2016). For instance the cusk-eel Ophidion marginatum (subfamily Ophidiinae) produces sounds composed of one to 27 pulses with a peak frequency of about 1200 Hz (Mann et al., 1997;Sprague and Luczkovich, 2001;Rountree and Bowers-Altman, 2002;Mooney et al., 2016). This peak frequency is too high to be produced by individual contractions of superfast sonic muscles, suggesting a slow-muscle mechanism. ...
Based on morphology, NB Marshall identified cusk-eels (family Ophidiidae) as one of the chief sound-producing groups on the continental slope. Due to food scarcity, we hypothesized that sonic systems will be reduced at great depths despite their potential importance in sexual reproduction. We examined this hypothesis in the cusk-eel subfamily Neobythitinae by comparing sonic morphology in Atlantic species from the upper-mid (Dicrolene intronigra) and deeper continental slope (Porogadus miles and Bathyonus pectoralis) with three Taiwanese species previously described from the upper slope (Hoplobrotula armatus, Neobythites longipes and N. unimaculatus). In all six species, medial muscles are heavier in males than in females. Dicrolene has four pairs of sonic muscles similar to the shallow Pacific species, suggesting neobythitine sonic anatomy is conservative and sufficient food exists to maintain a well-developed system at depths exceeding 1. km. The sonic system in Porogadus and Bathyonus was reduced to a single pair of ventral medial muscles that connects to a smaller and thinner swimbladder via a long tendon. Small muscle fiber diameters, a likely indicator of rapid contraction, were present in males of five of the species. However, in Bathyonus, the deepest species (pale coloration, reduced eye size, shorter sonic muscles and longer tendons), muscle fibers were larger suggesting an adaptation to facilitate rapid bladder movement for sound production while using slower contractions and less metabolic energy. The six species separate into three groups in length-weight regressions: the three upper slope species have the greatest weights per unit length, Dicrolene is lower, and the two deep species are further reduced consistent with the hypothesis that food limitation affects sonic anatomy at great depths.
This study investigates the sounds and the anatomy of the sound‐producing organ in the male and female sand‐dwelling cusk‐eel Parophidion vassali. Although both sexes have similar external phenotype, they can be distinguished by their sonic apparatus and sounds. As in many Ophioidei, Parophidion vassali presents a panel of highly derived characters. Fish possess three pairs of sonic muscles, and males have mineralized swimbladder caps on which inserts the ventral sonic muscle, a neural arch that pivots, a stretchable swimbladder fenestra, an osseous swimbladder plate and a rounded pressure‐release membrane in the caudal swimbladder. Females, however, do not possess anterior swimbladder caps, a swimbladder fenestra and the caudal rounded membrane. Males possess the unusual ability to produce sounds starting with a set of low amplitude pulses followed by a second set with higher amplitudes clearly dividing each sound unit into two parts. Females do not vary their sound amplitude in this way: they produce shorter sounds and pulse periods but with a higher peak frequency. Morphology and sound features support the sound‐producing mechanism is based on a rebound system (i.e. quick backward snap of the anterior swimbladder). Based on features of the sounds from tank recordings, we have putatively identified the sound of male Parophidion vassali at sea. As these species are ecologically cryptic, we hope this work will allow assessment and clarify the distribution of their populations. This study investigates the sounds and the anatomy of the sound‐producing organ in the dwelling cusk‐eel. Males produce sounds starting with a set of low amplitude pulses followed by a second set with higher amplitudes clearly dividing each sound unit into two parts. Females produce shorter sounds and pulse periods but with a higher peak frequency. Differences in sounds correspond to differences in sound‐producing mechanisms.
The Ophidiidae was the seventh most abundant family represented in ichthyo-plankton collections in the Middle Atlantic Bight from 1977 through 1987. Seven distinct larvae occurred: most abundant were Lepophidium profundorum, Ophidion marginatum and Ophidion robinsi n. sp., but O. selenops, O. holbrooki, O. welshi and Otophidium omostigmum were also collected. Examination of ontogenetic development of the three most abundant species and congeners in the Gulf of Mexico revealed differences between Lepophidium and Ophidion. In Lepophidium, vertebrae ossify from anterior to posterior, pectoral-fin rays form early, and cartilaginous epurals appear in larvae. In Ophidion, vertebrae form from both ends toward the middle, pectoral-fin rays form late, and there are no epurals. In both genera, the extreme anterior position of the pelvic-fin rays, and swim-bladder structures associated with sound production develop in stages older than pelagic larvae. Lepophidium profundorum larvae were primarily distributed over the outer half of the continental shelf, as far north as the southern flank of Georges Bank during summer. In the laboratory, O. marginatum spawned nightly for 2 mo, each female releasing a single mucilaginous sac containing a small batch of eggs. Larvae were distributed nearshore from Block Island Sound to Cape Hatteras during the summer. Larvae of O. robinsi, recognized by low numbers of meristic characters and distinct pigment and body proportions, occurred during spring and summer, and were common over midshelf depths between Cape Hatteras and the New York Bight. Meristic characters separate O. robinsi n. sp. from two other prominently spotted ophidiines, O. grayi and Otophidium omostigmum.