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Fish Moonlight Sonata’s Nocturnal ‘Singing’ Secrets Revealed, say Scientists

In constant darkness, the fish hummed pretty much on schedule, thanks to their internal clock, or circadian rhythm

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A midshipman fish’s head is shown in this undated handout photo. (Margaret Marchaterre/Courtesy of Cornell University). VOA
  • Males migrate during the late spring and summer from deep offshore sites into shallow intertidal waters, where they build nests beneath rocky shelters
  • The plainfin midshipman, up to 15 inches (38 cm) long, generally has an olive-brown colour
  • Melatonin keeps day-active birds quiet at night and helps humans fall asleep, but has the reverse effect in the midshipman fish

September 23, 2016: In one of the marvels of nature, males of a fish species called the plainfin midshipman that dwells in Pacific coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California court females during breeding season using a nocturnal “love song” with an otherworldly sound.

Scientists have wondered what makes these fish sing only at night. A study published Thursday provides the answer.

Laboratory experiments showed that the fish’s vocalisation, a low-frequency hum like a foghorn, is controlled by a light-driven internal clock and the hormone melatonin, known to govern sleep and wake cycles, researchers said.

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“They are among the vocal champions of the marine environment along with whales and dolphins,” said Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behaviour Andrew Bass. “The production and hearing of vocal signals play a central role in their social interactions and reproductive behaviour.”

The plainfin midshipman, up to 15 inches (38 cm) long, generally has an olive-brown colour. Its name comes from rows of bioluminescent organs on its underside that reminded early observers of the buttons on a midshipman’s uniform.

Males migrate during the late spring and summer from deep offshore sites into shallow intertidal waters, where they build nests beneath rocky shelters.

Throughout the night, they produce hums by vibrating a gas-filled bladder within their abdomen to attract females to their nests to spawn. One hum can last almost two hours.

Neighbouring males often hum together in a chorus.

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Ni Feng, who led the study in Bass’ lab at Cornell and now is a Yale University postdoctoral researcher, said the study, published in the journal Current Biology, involved wild-caught fish kept in rooms where lighting could be controlled.

In constant darkness, the fish hummed pretty much on schedule, thanks to their internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

In constant brightness, a condition that lowers melatonin production, humming was suppressed. When kept in constant light but given a melatonin-like substitute, they continued to hum, though at random times of the day.

Melatonin keeps day-active birds quiet at night and helps humans fall asleep, but has the reverse effect in the midshipman fish.

People have not always known what to make of the midshipman’s humming.

“In the early 1980s, a mysterious sound caused concern for houseboat residents of Sausalito Bay, California, who suspected the source might be the pumps of a nearby sewage plant, an underwater power line, some secret experiment by the Navy or maybe even extraterrestrials,” Bass said.

“It turned out their houseboats were merely resonating with the ‘love songs’ of male midshipman fish.” (VOA)

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India International Science Fest (IISF) in Delhi to focus on PM Narendra Modi’s call for a “Cashless Society”

The minister informed that over 3,000 students from the villages adopted by MPs will also participate in the fest

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A museum will come up in Chanakyapuri to ceebrate Indian diaspora
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrating Indian diversity via museum VOA

New Delhi, Dec 2, 2016: Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Friday announced that the upcoming India International Science Fest (IISF) will focus on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a “Cashless Society”.

“All transactions at the fest will be cashless,” the minister said.

The IISF will be held here December 7-11 December here. Israeli Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis will pay special visit to the fest, which will be inaugurated by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on December 8.

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Harsh Vardhan added that beside a cashless economy, the theme of this year’s fest would be “science for masses”.

“Emphasis would be to take science to the rural areas,” he saide.The budget of the festival has been increased to Rs 12 crore this year compared to last year’s Rs 4 crore.

The minister informed that over 3,000 students from the villages adopted by MPs will also participate in the fest.

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The fest also sees to break its own world record of maximum number of students performing a scientific experiment. Total 2,500 children will be perform a scientific experiment to break its previous record of 2,000 students. The record was first held by Northern Ireland, with 1300 students performing a scientific experiment.

“We are a government that believes and supports scientific research, including an appropriate balance between fundamental research to support new discoveries and the commercialization of ideas, will lead to provide an ample employment opportunities for India’s sustainable economic growth,” said Harsh Vardhan. (IANS)