The part of the brain that enables us to talk may have been developed over 400 million years ago in fish, according to a new study.
Neurobiologists in the USA have found that the neural circuitry responsible for enabling Midshipman fish to make audible grunts is located in the same region of the brain as the neural networks responsible for vocalisation in birds, amphibians and mammals.
We stood back and said: ~Oh my god, this is all in the same place , Professor Andrew Bass told the BBC. You could see that was a very ancient part of the nervous system shared by all vertebrates.
The shared location of this vocal circuitry (at the base of the hindbrain and the upper part of the spinal cord) in all vertebrates suggests that it was developed before all those that possess it had evolved from a common ancestor.
That would date it back to the evolution of bony fishes, around 400 million years ago.
I think it's fair to say that most people are unaware of the fact that many fish use sound for social communication, said Professor Bass.
They make different kinds of sounds in different social contexts. Just as birds will use one call to attract a mate and another call to scare a rival off, the fish do exactly the same thing.
The Midshipman fish itself uses its vocal ability to attract females to its nest, in the form of a hum that can last for hours, or to ward off rival males - with short, sharp grunts and growls.