Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027.
The clawed frog Xenopus laevis uses sexually dimorphic vocalizations, mate calling and ticking, to advertise reproductive state. The basic unit of vocalization is a brief click, produced by the movement of cartilagenous disks located within the larynx. The rate of click production in the male-specific mate call (71 Hz) is an order of magnitude faster than the rate of click production in female typical ticking (6 Hz). To determine if vocalization rate is constrained by the periphery, male and female larynges were isolated and response of the muscles to nerve stimulation was studied. Laryngeal muscle response is markedly dimorphic in the 2 sexes, both in the amplitude potentiation of electromyograms and in the rate at which discrete tension transients can be produced. At 6 Hz (ticking), both sexes generate discrete tension transients in response to each stimulus pulse. In response to nerve stimulation at 71 Hz (mate calling), male laryngeal muscle generates discrete tension transients while female laryngeal muscle does not. Since expression of sex-specific vocalizations is regulated by androgenic hormones, responses of laryngeal muscle to nerve stimulation in androgen-treated adult females and castrated adult males were also examined. The responses of laryngeal muscle from castrated and intact males are similar. Androgen-treated female larynx is partially masculinized but does not produce tension transients at the mate call rate. These physiological results are in close agreement with behavioral observations. Sounds produced by the isolated larynx were nearly identical in spectral properties to those produced by an intact male. We determined that the production of a discrete tension transient is prerequisite to click production. Thus, one reason females do not mate call, even when treated with androgens, is that female laryngeal muscle cannot produce discrete tension transients at a rapid rate.