For most aquatic vertebrates, axial movements play key roles in the performance of startle responses. In fishes, these axis-based startle behaviors fall into three distinct categories - the C-start, withdrawal, and S-start - defined by patterns of body bending and underlying motor control. Startle behaviors have been widely studied due to their importance for predator evasion. In addition, the neural circuits that control startles are relatively accessible, compared to other vertebrate circuits, and have provided opportunities to understand basic nervous system function. The C-start neural circuit has long been a model in systems neuroscience and considerable work on neural control of withdrawal response has been conducted in the larval lamprey. The S-start response has only recently been explored from a physiological perspective and we focus here on reviewing S-start motor control and movement in the context of the other two responses. Axial elongation has previously been associated with startle behavior in comparisons of C-starts and withdrawal, with extremely elongate animals performing withdrawals. We suggest that the S-start tends to occur with moderate body elongation, complementing the C-start in animals with this body form. As many larval fishes are moderately elongate, we suggest that the S-start may be common in larvae but may be secondarily lost with body shape change through development.