Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 95, Issue 2, pp 275–290 | Cite as

Development of the ear, hearing capabilities and laterophysic connection in the spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus)

  • Jacqueline F. Webb
  • Ryan M. Walsh
  • Brandon M. Casper
  • David A. Mann
  • Natasha Kelly
  • Nicole Cicchino


The ontogeny of the ear, swim bladder and laterophysic connection was investigated in the spotfin butterflyfish, Chaetodon ocellatus in order to determine how the development of the laterophysic connection (a Chaetodon synapomorphy) is correlated with ontogenetic changes in the hearing capabilities in these abundant and ecologically important coral reef fishes. Histological and cleared and stained material revealed that the medial opening in the lateral line canal in the supracleithrum (which defines the laterophysic connection), an inflated physoclistous swim bladder, and the three otolithic organs are already present in the smallest individuals examined (7–15 mm SL). The medial opening in the supracleithrum increases in size and the cylindrical swim bladder horns form after the loss of the head plates characteristic of the tholichthys stage, in individuals ≥29 mm SL. The three sensory maculae of the ear increase in size, and the shape of the sacculus changes most dramatically with fish growth; hair cell density is highest in the utriculus. Physiological analysis of the reponse to sound pressure showed that larval and juvenile C. ocellatus had a hearing sensitivity peak at 100–200 Hz, which was ~30–40 dB more sensitive than that measured in larval coral reef fishes (e.g., damselfishes) that lack swim bladder horns. C. ocellatus did not show any ontogenetic changes in sensitivity to sound pressure, which may be explained by the fact that the growth of the swim bladder horns maintains the small distance between the swim bladder and ear that was established earlier during the larval stage. The timing of the development of the swim bladder horns suggests that if the laterophysic connection has a sensory acoustic function, its presence in individuals >29 mm SL suggests that its role is limited to post-settlement, reef-based behaviors.


Swim bladder Lateral line Hearing AEP Sensory ontogeny Ear Laterophysic connection 



We thank Ken Able (Rutgers University Marine Field Station, Tuckerton, NJ) for providing the specimens used in this study, and for providing the lab space in which our physiological analysis was carried out. Karsten Hartel (Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University) provided a gift of small Chaetodon larvae for histological analysis. Jeff Leis (Australian Museum, Sydney) provided fruitful discussions and read an earlier draft of this manuscript. The histological analysis of ear development constituted a Senior Undergraduate Thesis by RMW. An HHMI Undergraduate Education grant to Villanova University provided support for NK and NC. This work was carried out under an approved Villanova University IACUC protocol. It was supported by a Villanova Faculty Summer Research Grant and NSF grants IOS-9603896 and IOS-0132607 to JFW.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacqueline F. Webb
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ryan M. Walsh
    • 2
  • Brandon M. Casper
    • 3
    • 4
  • David A. Mann
    • 3
  • Natasha Kelly
    • 2
  • Nicole Cicchino
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  3. 3.College of Marine ScienceUniversity of South FloridaSt. PetersburgUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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