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Use of urea as a chemosensory cloaking molecule by a bony fish
John F. Barimo, Patrick J. Walsh


Because urea is bioenergetically expensive to synthesize, few aquatic teleostean (bony) fish make or excrete much urea beyond early development and excrete the majority of nitrogenous waste as the readily diffusible ammonia. The gulf toadfish is one of a few adult teleostean fish that excretes predominately urea. Most studies of chemosensing by fish predators have focused on amino acids as odorants, but we tested the chemo-attractiveness of both urea and ammonia. We report that characteristic `prey-attack' behaviors by a key toadfish predator, gray snapper, were elicited by low ammonia concentrations (<100 nmol N l-1) and similar urea concentrations blunted the ammonia-induced component of attacks. Thus, urea functions as a cloaking molecule, explaining why toadfish co-excrete urea with ammonia. Furthermore, ammonia waste is an important chemical attractant for piscine predators.

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