Spooky Interaction at a Distance in Cave and Surface Dwelling Electric Fishes

Eric S. Fortune, Nicole Andanar, Manu Madhav, Ravikrishnan P. Jayakumar, Noah J. Cowan, Maria Elina Bichuette, Daphne Soares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Glass knifefish (Eigenmannia) are a group of weakly electric fishes found throughout the Amazon basin. Their electric organ discharges (EODs) are energetically costly adaptations used in social communication and for localizing conspecifics and other objects including prey at night and in turbid water. Interestingly, a troglobitic population of blind cavefish Eigenmannia vicentespelea survives in complete darkness in a cave system in central Brazil. We examined the effects of troglobitic conditions, which includes a complete loss of visual cues and potentially reduced food sources, by comparing the behavior and movement of freely behaving cavefish to a nearby epigean (surface) population (Eigenmannia trilineata). We found that the strengths of electric discharges in cavefish were greater than in surface fish, which may result from increased reliance on electrosensory perception, larger size, and sufficient food resources. Surface fish were recorded while feeding at night and did not show evidence of territoriality, whereas cavefish appeared to maintain territories. Surprisingly, we routinely found both surface and cavefish with sustained differences in EOD frequencies that were below 10 Hz despite being within close proximity of about 50 cm. A half century of analysis of electrosocial interactions in laboratory tanks suggest that these small differences in EOD frequencies should have triggered the “jamming avoidance response,” a behavior in which fish change their EOD frequencies to increase the difference between individuals. Pairs of fish also showed significant interactions between EOD frequencies and relative movements at large distances, over 1.5 m, and at high differences in frequencies, often >50 Hz. These interactions are likely “envelope” responses in which fish alter their EOD frequency in relation to higher order features, specifically changes in the depth of modulation, of electrosocial signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number561524
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
StatePublished - Oct 22 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


  • cavefish
  • diceCT
  • envelope
  • epigean
  • gymnotiformes
  • jamming avoidance response
  • troglobitic
  • weakly electric fish


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