Singing above the chorus: cooperative Princess cichlid fish (Neolamprologus pulcher) has high pitch
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Teleost fishes not only communicate with well-known visual cues, but also olfactory and acoustic signals. Communicating with sound has advantages, as acoustic signals propagate fast, omnidirectionally, around obstacles and over long distances. Heterogeneous environments might favour multimodal communication, especially in socially complex species, as the combination of modalities’ strengths helps overcome their individual limitations. Fishes of the ecologically and morphologically diverse family Cichlidae are known to be vocal. Here we investigated sound production in the socially complex Princess cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher from Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. We show that wild and captive N. pulcher produce only short-duration, broadband high-frequency sounds (mean: 12 kHz), when stimulated by mirror images. The evolutionary reasons for this “low frequency silencing” are still unclear. In laboratory experiments, N. pulcher produced distinct two-pulsed calls mostly, but not exclusively, associated with agonistic displays. Princess cichlids produce these high-frequency sounds both in combination with and independent from visual displays, suggesting that sounds are not a by-product of behavioural displays. Further studies on the hearing abilities of N. pulcher are needed to clarify whether the high-frequency sounds are used in intra- or inter-specific communication.