178. Toad Hummer


In September 1995, the house boat residents in the exclusive Richardson Bay area, across San Francisco (USA), suffered from a strange malady. None of them could sleep at nights and hence most of them developed chronic head aches.

What was the reason? It was the persistent humming sound that kept them awake throughout the nights. To some people it was like the sound of ten electric razors running at the same time. To some others, it was like a powerful generator.

At times the humming got so loud that it would drown the conversation people were having or even wake up a person–if he had managed to fall asleep.

Since the sound came from under water, acoustical engineers from the University of California, at Berkley were called for help. With the help of a skilled diver and a few instruments the source of the sound was eventually located.

The hummer was the “Plainfin Midshipman”—a toad fish; with an ugly, short, thickset body and a wide flattened head. It was producing a characteristic hum by vibrating the muscles of its air bladder.

Many members of the toad fish family can produce sounds of one kind or the other—but the “Porichtys notatus” or the plainfin midshipman was an enviable singer!

Why does the toad fish sing? Since it sings only between September and April, it must be a part of its courtship ritual. It might be to attract the eligible “bride” or to warn the other male fish around. When threatened or frightened, the fish produces loud grunts and strange burping noises.

Some other fish also have this peculiar ability. The male oyster fish can whistle. The electric cat fish can hiss! The horse mackerel can grunt like a pig. The trunk fish and the puffer can growl like a dog. The family of fish known as “Drums” can creak, hum, purr, and whistle so loud that they can be heard from the deck of a ship directly above them.

Most of the fish may “look stupid but all are not dumb”!

Visalakshi Ramani

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