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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2005 Sep-Oct;78(5):724-35. Epub 2005 Jul 28.

Does pulsatile urea excretion serve as a social signal in the gulf toadfish Opsanus beta?

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, United Kingdom.


This study evaluated the hypothesis that the pulsatile excretion of urea by toadfish could serve as a social signal. In the first experiment, physiological parameters were measured in pairs of dominant and subordinate toadfish. Subordinate toadfish had elevated concentrations of circulating plasma cortisol, an effect maintained even after cannulation. In the second experiment, one fish of a pair was injected with 14C-urea, and the occurrence of urea pulses during social encounters was documented. Social status did not influence the order of pulsing, that is, whether a dominant or subordinate fish pulsed first during a social encounter. However, in seven out of eight pairs, both toadfish pulsed within 2 h of each other, indicating some form of communication between fish. In the third and final experiment, the response of toadfish to urea (natural or synthetic) was observed. There was a tendency for toadfish to avoid synthetic urea but there was no apparent behavioural response to water containing toadfish urea. Pulsing events do not appear to play an integral role during social encounters as previously hypothesised, but the close timing of pulses in toadfish pairs suggests some transfer of information.

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