Cornell University researchers have learned how a common fish found along the West Coast can hum and hear outside sounds at the same time.
Photograph by Margaret Marchaterre, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University.
A male plainfin midshipman with his newly hatched embryos attached to the rocky substrate of his nest (top right). A graph of neural impulses over a period of a few milliseconds is superimposed over the photo. The yellow lines show nerve impulses that lead to vocal muscles and cue them to make noise. The sounds actually occur in the millisecond spaces between each yellow spike. As the sound takes place, the brain also sends an impulse to the fishs ear (red spikes), which reduces sensitivity during intervals that coincide precisely with the noise. Copyright © Cornell UniversityClick
The study marks the first time that scientists have found a direct line of communication between the part of a vertebrates brain that controls the vocal muscle system and the part of the ear that hears sound. The researchers believe that understanding the auditory system of the plainfin midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus ) -- a 6- to 10-inch fish found along the coastline from Alaska to California -- will offer insights into how other vertebrates -- including humans -- hear.
The general pattern of connections between neurons in the auditory system is the same in all vertebrates, including mammals. While humans hear with the cochlea of the inner ear, the midshipman uses the sacculus, a part of the ear that in humans detects acceleration or linear movement.
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