Vocalization during Agonistic Behaviour in Cottus gobio L. (Cottidae): An Acoustic Threat Display


  • Friedrich Ladich

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    1. Institut für Zoologie der Universität Wien, Wien
      Institut für Zoologie der Universität Wien, Althanstraße 14, A-1090 Wien.
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      Ladich, F. 1990: Vocalization during agonistic behaviour in Cottus gobio L. (Cottidae): an acousticthreat display. Ethology 84, 193–201.

Institut für Zoologie der Universität Wien, Althanstraße 14, A-1090 Wien.


Agonistic behaviour in the river bullhead C. gobio consists of visual (raising gill covers and fins, lowering the head, darkening) and acoustic (single knock sounds and trains of knock sounds) threat displays, rarely followed by attacks and bites. This study investigates the relationship of vocalizations with size, dominance, territory dimensions and sex of the opponents. Four groups, each consisting of a big male, a small male and a female, were each investigated for three different days. The number of won contests of each individual, the numbers of each sound produced during these encounters and the tank part where encounters took place were determined.

Subordinate fish emit fewer sounds but relatively far more trains of knock sounds than dominant ones. They produce relatively more sounds under shelters whereas dominants do this on uncovered areas. α-fish produce more calls during agonistic encounters with β-fish than Ω fish. In β-individuals no such difference was noted. Basically no sex related behaviour could be observed. In each area of the tank one individual won most contests (= territory). Dimensions of territories differed significantly between individuals in each tank (α-, β-, Ω-fish). In no case were all three individuals able to maintain territories.

Relative sizes of fish correlate significantly with relative numbers of successful encounters and with territory dimensions. Furthermore, both parameters are positively correlated with the numbers of sounds emitted by an individual.

Sound production in C. gobio functions as an acoustical threat display. Because of the high energy costs of sound emission underwater it might be a very effective method of assessing the fighting ability of an opponent.