Next time you're at a loud singles bar, thank a fish for inspiration. Here's why: When a male midshipman fish [above] eyes a competitor swimming too close, he chases off the interloper with an audible grunt. To attract a mate, he hums loudly for hours on end [see video below]. Now these cries have attracted researchers seeking to figure out whether noisy animals, from fish to mammals, have a common ancestor that gave them the ability to vocalize. Researchers studied the larvae of three closely related species of bony fish—the midshipman fish, Gulf toadfish and oyster toadfish—that make sounds by squeezing their swim bladders up to 200 times per second. They report in Science that the parts of the brain and spinal cord that control the rhythm of those muscles develop in a pattern similar to that of other vocalizing animals, which suggests a common origin. Of course, the instruments being played by these brain cells—swim bladders in fish; the larynx in mammals—probably evolved independently. Think of that next time you're listening to a tall fishing story.




Image courtesy of Margaret A. Marchaterre, Cornell University; Video courtesy of Andrew Bass and Margaret A. Marchaterre, Cornell University