Sciaenid fishes (Family Sciaenidae) could potentially serve as models for understanding the relationship between structure and function in the teleost auditory system, as they show a broad range of variation in not only the structure of the ear but also in the relationship between the ear and swim bladder. In this study, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to investigate inner ear ultrastructure of the Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), kingfish (Menticirrhusamericanus) and spot (Leiostomus xanthurus). These species reflect the diversity of otolith and swim bladder morphology in sciaenids. The distribution of different hair cell bundle types, as well as hair cell orientation patterns on the saccular and lagenar maculae of these fishes were similar to one another. The rostral ends of the saccular sensory epithelia (maculae) were highly expanded in a dorsal-ventral direction in the Atlantic croaker and spotted seatrout as compared to the kingfish and spot. Also, ciliary bundles of the saccular maculae contained more stereocilia in the Atlantic croaker and spotted seatrout as compared with kingfish and spot. The shapes of the lagenar maculae were similar in all four species. In the Atlantic croaker and spotted seatrout lagenar maculae, the number of stereocilia per bundle was greater than those for the kingfish and spot. Given that saccular macula shape and numbers of stereocilia per bundle correlate with swim bladder proximity to the ear in the studied species, it is possible that inner ear ultrastructure could be indicative of auditory ability in fishes.

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