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Striped cusk-eels, Ophidion marginatum

 

(Illustration curtesy of NOAA/NMFS/NEFSC)

Here is a brief description of some of my past work with the striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum. The striped cusk-eel is an abundant coastal marine species occurring from Long Island, NY to northeastern Florida. However, it was thought to be a rare straggler to Cape Cod and their is one record from a power plant in Plymouth, MA ( Gulf of Maine). Relatively little is known about the ecology of this species because of its cryptic nocturnal habitat. It remains burrowed within the sediment during the day, emerging primarily during the evening hours. The striped cusk-eel has been known to be soniferous for many years, because of the presence of well described sonic muscles associated with the swim bladder and cranium. However, sound recordings were not available until my colleagues and I described them from observations of captive specimens in July 1989 while I was a student at Rutgers University. Based on these recording I recognized that one of the sounds attributed to the striped searobin, Prionotus evolans by Moultan in the 1950s, and later to the weakfish, Cynocion regalis by Fish and Moubray in the 1960's and 70's, were miss-identified, and were in fact recordings of the striped cusk-eel (See my online review of the Fish and Moubray archive)

I. Laboratory studies

During the summer and fall of 1989 Jeanette Bowers-Altman and myself had the oportunaty to observe spawning behavior of striped cusk-eels at the Rutgers Marine Field Station, in Tuckerton, NJ. As part of this small side project, we recorded cusk-eel sounds with a standard tape recorder (in air), observed their behavior, made one video tape, and hatched the eggs. Three female (225-263 mm TL) and six male (160-193 mm TL) cusk-eels were held in a flow-through tank under ambient conditions from 22 July 22 September 1989. Spawning occurred every night around sunset and after males started calling. Sound production by females was uncertain. This study resulted in three publications. It also provided larval specimens that allowed Mike Fahay to distinghuish among Mid Atlantic Bight Ophidiidae, and contributed to his publication.

1) Fahay, M.P. 1992. Development and distribution of cusk eel eggs and larvae in the middle Atlantic Bight with a description of Ophidion robinsi n.sp. (Teleostei: Ophidiidae). Copeia 1992(3):799-819.

2) Mann, D.A., J. Bowers-Altman, and R.A. Rountree. 1997. Sounds produced by the striped cusk-eel Ophidion marginatum (Ophidiidae) during courtship and spawning. Copeia 1997(3):610-612.

3) Rountree, R.A. and J. Bowers-Altman. 2002. Soniferous behavior of the striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum. Bioacoustics 12(2/3):240-242

For more information about this lab project and our observations see Rountree, R.A. and J. Bowers-Altman. 2001.

Laboratory setup at RUMFSCusk-eel holding tank where observations and recordings were made. Male cusk-eelMale cusk-eel emerging from sand. Male cusk-eelMale cusk-eel.
Download Cusk-eel spawning video Cusk-eels spawning - silent film made with a camcorder during August 1989.
At the end of the clip you can see the egg mass still protruding from the female's vent.
Download Cusk-eel egg mass video Cusk-eel egg mass - the egg mass is clear, positively buoyant, and is about the same size as a ctenophore possibly accounting for its not being noticed in fish egg surveys.


Striped cusk-eel spectrogram Download an example of a cusk-eel call recorded in the laboratory in August 1989. Sounds were recorded in air with a conventional tape recorder.

 

Years later my student Katie Burchard (nee Anderson) monitored female cusk-eels in the laboratory but the individual remained silent.
Female striped cusk-eelFemale striped cusk-eel Lab set-upLab set up for observing cusk-eel behavior
cusk-eel tankTank set-up showing sand boxes and burrows Katie and cusk-eel tankKatie emerging from blinded tank used to control photoperiod

Youtube videos of cusk-eel burrowing behavior


II. Field Studies


When I first became interested in field studies of passive acoustics, I was traveling from my home to Tuckerton, NJ (6 h drive) to record cusk-eels in the field because I did not know that they occurred on Cape Cod. In those early days I was using a dolphinEar hydrophone and recording to a VCR powered by a 12 v car battery using an inverter. It was the only way I could get long-term (up to 6 h) recording. Later I would capture the audio from the VCR tape by playing it into a computer. I naively attempted to record underwater video with a drop camera. A copy of one of my first proposals for research in passive acoustics shows how far we've come in the last two decades, unfortunatley it was never funded (no one cared about cusk-eels). NURC proposal to study cusk-eel soniferous behavior.


Below is a video from such early attempts. It "ain't" pretty:


Recording in NJEquipment used to record sounds and video

Striped cusk-eel spectrogram

Download an example of a cusk-eel sound extracted from video and recorded in the field in the Great Bay estuary of southern New Jersey during August 2000.


A couple other short clips recorded on August 5, 2000 from the Great Bay estuary: First., Second and third clips.


Survey of soniferous fishes of Cape Cod

In 2001, working with my colleague Francis Juanes at UMASS Amherst, I began to survey soundscapes of habitats on Cape Cod, MA. I quickly discovered that the striped cusk-eel is abundant on the Cape and it was no longer necessary to travel long distances to record them! Megan Hendry-Brogan, a graduate student at MIT, assisted me during the summer and recorded at various location to a tape recorder or VHS.

Striped cusk-eel male
Cusk-eel call Cusk-eel call
Spectrogram of a cusk-eel chorus
recorded on 16 June 2001 in Cotuit harbor, MA.
Listen to a chorus
Cusk-eel call
Spectrogram of boat and chorus Response of cusk eel to a boat recorded 29 July 2001 in Cotuit harbor, MA.
Download to listen

In 2002, Katie Burchard (nee Andersen) began working with us as an undergraduate student volunteer. She began processing the early data to look for cusk-eel sounds and make measurements and also begain extensive recording on the SMAST Pier in New Bedford harbor.

Cusk-eel call
Cusk-eel call Cusk-eel call


Katie went on to get a Polgar Fellowship to study cusk-eels and other fishes in the Hudson River and recorded cusk-eel right from the docks of New York City! For more information, see the description of her study at: Soniferous fishes and passive acoustics of the Hudson River
and her first full publication: Soniferous fishes in the Hudson River

For more information see the following reports and pubs:


Mann, D.A., J.D. Bowers-Altman, and R.A. Rountree. 1997. Sounds produced by the striped cusk-eel Ophidion marginatum (Ophidiidae) during courtship and spawning. Copeia 1997(3):610-612.
Rountree, R.A. and J. Bowers-Altman. 2002. Soniferous behavior of the striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum. Bioacoustics 12(2/3):240-242.
Rountree, R.A., F. Juanes, and J.E. Blue. 2003. Soniferous Fishes of Massachusetts. In: Listening to Fish: Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries. April 8-10, 2002. Dedham, MA. MIT Sea Grant Technical Report MITSG 03-2.
Anderson, K.A., R.R. Rountree, amd F. Juanes.2004. The Distribution and Behavior of Soniferous Fishes in the Hudson River: Focusing on Striped Cusk-eel, Ophidium marginatum. Section VI: 28 pp. In J.R. Waldman, W.C. Nieder (eds.), Final Reports of the Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship Program, 2003. Hudson River Foundation.
Anderson, K.A., R.R. Rountree, amd F. Juanes.2005. Soniferous Fishes in tidal freshwater Tivoli Bay of the Hudson River. Section VI: 28 pp. In J.R. Waldman, W.C. Nieder (eds.), Final Reports of the Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship Program, 2004. Hudson River Foundation.
Anderson, K.A., R.A. Rountree and F. Juanes. 2008. Soniferous fishes in the Hudson River. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 137:(2):616-626.

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