Acoustic characteristics and variations in grunt vocalizations in the oyster toadfish Opsanus tau

Karen P. Maruska, Allen Mensinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Acoustic communication is critical for reproductive success in the oyster toadfish Opsanus tau. While previous studies have examined the acoustic characteristics, behavioral context, geographical variation, and seasonality of advertisement boatwhistle sound production, there is limited information on the grunt or other non-advertisement vocalizations in this species. This study continuously monitored sound production in toadfish maintained in an outdoor habitat for four months to identify and characterize grunt vocalizations, compare them with boatwhistles, and test for relationships between the incidence of grunt vocalizations, sound characteristics and environmental parameters. Oyster toadfish produced grunts in response to handling, and spontaneous single (70% of all grunts), doublet (10%), and trains of grunts (20%) throughout the May to September study period. Grunt types varied in pulse structure, duration, and frequency components, and were shorter and of lower fundamental frequency than the pulse repetition rate of boatwhistles. Higher water temperatures were correlated with a greater number of grunt emissions, higher fundamental frequencies, and shorter sound durations. The number of grunts per day was also positively correlated with daylength and maximum tidal amplitude differences (previously entrained) associated with full and new moons, thus providing the first demonstration of semilunar vocalization rhythms in the oyster toadfish. These data provide new information on the acoustic repertoire and the environmental factors correlated with sound production in the toadfish, and have important implications for seasonal acoustic communication in this model vocal fish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-337
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Biology of Fishes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank Jack Lyons for help with data collection, Wayne Korzan for initial tank set-up, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for use of tank space, and two reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. This study was made possible by a Grass Foundation Fellowship to KPM and additional funding provided by the Marine Biological Laboratory Neuroscience Institute (KPM) and National Science Foundation (Award #0316130 to AFM), which are greatly appreciated.


  • Acoustic communication
  • Agonistic behavior
  • Grunt
  • Semilunar
  • Sound production
  • Temperature effects


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