Evolution of a behavioral shift mediated by superficial neuromasts helps cavefish find food in darkness. Academic Article uri icon


  • How cave animals adapt to life in darkness is a poorly understood aspect of evolutionary biology [1]. Here we identify a behavioral shift and its morphological basis in Astyanax mexicanus, a teleost with a sighted surface-dwelling form (surface fish) and various blind cave-dwelling forms (cavefish) [2-4]. Vibration attraction behavior (VAB) is the ability of fish to swim toward the source of a water disturbance in darkness. VAB was typically seen in cavefish, rarely in surface fish, and was advantageous for feeding success in the dark. The potential for showing VAB has a genetic component and is linked to the mechanosensory function of the lateral line. VAB was evoked by vibration stimuli peaking at 35 Hz, blocked by lateral line inhibitors, first detected after developmental increases in superficial neuromast (SN) number and size [5-7], and significantly reduced by bilateral ablation of SN. We conclude that VAB and SN enhancement coevolved to compensate for loss of vision and to help blind cavefish find food in darkness.

publication date

  • September 28, 2010