Swimming of larval zebrafish: fin-axis coordination and implications for function and neural control. Academic Article uri icon


  • Adult actinopterygian fishes typically perform steady forward swimming using either their pectoral fins or their body axis as the primary propulsor. In most species, when axial undulation is employed for swimming, the pectoral fins are tucked (i.e. adducted) against the body; conversely, when pectoral fins are beating, the body axis is held straight. In contrast to adults, larval fishes can combine their pectoral fin and body-axis movements during locomotion; however, little is known about how these locomotor modes are coordinated. With this study we provide a detailed analysis of the coordinated fin and axial movements during slow and fast swimming by examining forward locomotion in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio L.). In addition, we describe the musculature that powers pectoral fin movement in larval zebrafish and discuss its functional implications. As larvae, zebrafish alternate their pectoral fins during slow swimming (0.011+/-0.001 mm ms(-1)) in conjunction with axial undulations of the same frequency (18-28 Hz). During fast swimming (0.109+/-0.030 mm ms(-1); 36-67 Hz), the fins are tucked against the body and propulsion occurs by axial undulation alone. We show that during swimming, larval fishes can use a similar limb-axis coordination pattern to that of walking and running salamanders. We suggest that the fin-axis coordination observed in larval zebrafish may be attributed to a primitive neural circuit and that early terrestrial vertebrates may have gained the ability to coordinate limbs and lateral bending by retaining a larval central pattern generator for limb-axis coordination in the adult life history stage.

publication date

  • November 2004