Hydrodynamics of the escape response in bluegill sunfish, Lepomis macrochirus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Escape responses of fishes are one of the best characterized vertebrate behaviors, with extensive previous research on both the neural control and biomechanics of startle response performance. However, very little is known about the hydrodynamics of escape responses, despite the fact that understanding fluid flow patterns during the escape is critical for evaluating how body movement transfers power to the fluid, for defining the time course of power generation, and for characterizing the wake signature left by escaping fishes, which may provide information to predators. In this paper, we present an experimental hydrodynamic analysis of the C-start escape response in bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). We used time-resolved digital particle image velocimetry at 1000 frames s(-1) (fps) to image flow patterns during the escape response. We analyzed flow patterns generated by the body separately from those generated by the dorsal and anal fins to assess the contribution of these median fins to escape momentum. Each escape response produced three distinct jets of fluid. Summing the components of fluid momentum in the jets provided an estimate of fish momentum that did not differ significantly from momentum measured from the escaping fish body. In contrast to conclusions drawn from previous kinematic analyses and theoretical models, the caudal fin generated momentum that opposes the escape during stage one, whereas the body bending during stage one contributed substantial propulsive momentum. Additionally, the dorsal and anal fins each contributed substantial momentum. The results underscore the importance of the dorsal and anal fins as propulsors and suggest that the size and placement of these fins may be a key determinant of fast start performance.

publication date

  • November 2008