Sensing Electric Fields: It’s a Vertebrate Thing! – #365papers – 2018 – 45

King, Hu, and Long, 2018, Electroreception in early vertebrates: survey, evidence and new information: Palaeontology, 1-34.

What’s it about?

Electroreception, the ability to detect electric fields such as those generated by other fish swimming nearby, is a common vertebrate ability. It has been argued that bone initially evolved to act as an insulator for electroreceptors to improve their effectiveness. This paper is a review of what the bone evidence for electroreception is, and shows that it appears unlikely that bone evolved first as an insulator in vertebrates.

Why does it matter?

Bone is a uniquely vertebrate feature, therefore its origins play an important role in what distinguished early vertebrates from everything else in the global oceans. If bone did not develop as an insulation for electroreception, then its actual origins and purpose will tell us a great deal about what makes vertebrates so special.

Why did I read this?

For better or worse, I have been teaching the bone-as-insulator hypothesis over the many years I’ve been teaching paleontology. I guess I’ll need to change that part of my lecture…

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