On mating and function of associated electric pulses in Clarias macrocephalus (Günther 1864): probing an old puzzle, first posed by Charles Darwin

  • Vladimir M. Olshanskiy
  • Alexander O. Kasumyan
  • Peter MollerEmail author


The Asian broadhead walking catfish (Clarias macrocephalus) generates weak electric monopolar pulses during spawning. Males emit a single pulse when attracting a female, and while in amplexus, only females emit a single burst of similar pulses. This burst is a necessary component in the mating ritual of C. macrocephalus. Release of milt occurs about 5 s prior to the onset of a burst, which is immediately followed by the release of eggs. Following sperm release, the male remains in tight embrace with the female. Though both male and female could perceive each other’s electric pulses via ampullary receptors (communication mode), we postulate that egg release can be facilitated by direct action of the female’s burst on the male’s neuromuscular system (contraction mode). Shedding light on the function of weak episodic electric emission, we propose that the modification of electrogenic structures evolved towards increasing the efficiency of direct bodily impact. As extant clariids exhibit intermediate features between non-electric and strongly electric catfishes, Clarias should be considered a “serviceable transition,” which Charles Darwin deemed a possible intermediate form between these two groups.


Clarias macrocephalus Spawning behavior Electric fish Episodic electric pulses Mating ritual Pulse-induced muscle contraction 



We are grateful to Olga A. Soldatova, Konstantin S. Morshnev, Quang Lai, Thi Nga Nguyen, and Thi Ha Vo for their participation in our experiments in Vietnam; Xue Wei, Dmitriy E. Elyashev, Sergey V. Volkov, and Sergey V. Skorodumov for assistance with the development of electronic devices and software; Vladimir D. Baron and Andrey A. Orlov for sharing their insight about fish with episodic discharges; Dmitriy S. Pavlov, Eoin MacMahon, and Andrey V. Tchabovsky for their invaluable editorial comments throughout the preparation of the manuscript. We are grateful to the leadership of the Russian-Vietnamese Tropical Research and Technology Center and the Directorate of the Severtsov Institute RAS for organizational support of the experimental part of the work.

Funding information

This study was funded in part by the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Program No. 41 “Biodiversity of natural systems and biological resources of Russia.”

Supplementary material

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and EvolutionRussian Academy of Sciences (IEE RAS)MoscowRussian Federation
  2. 2.Faculty of BiologyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussian Federation
  3. 3.Hunter CollegeThe City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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