Caudal fin shape modulation and control during acceleration, braking and backing maneuvers in bluegill sunfish, Lepomis macrochirus

B. E. Flammang, G. V. Lauder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Evolutionary patterns of intrinsic caudal musculature in ray-finned fishes show that fine control of the dorsal lobe of the tail evolved first, followed by the ability to control the ventral lobe. This progression of increasing differentiation of musculature suggests specialization of caudal muscle roles. Fine control of fin elements is probably responsible for the range of fin conformations observed during different maneuvering behaviors. Here, we examine the kinematics of the caudal fin and the motor activity of the intrinsic caudal musculature during kick-and-glide, braking and backing maneuvers, and compare these data with our previous work on the function of the caudal fin during steady swimming. Kick-and-glide maneuvers consisted of large-amplitude, rapid lateral excursion of the tail fin, followed by forward movement of the fish with the caudal fin rays adducted to reduce surface area and with the tail held in line with the body. Just before the kick, the flexors dorsalis and ventralis, hypochordal longitudinalis, infracarinalis and supracarinalis showed strong activity. During braking, the dorsal and ventral lobes of the tail moved in opposite directions, forming an 'S'-shape, accompanied by strong activity in the interradialis muscles. During backing up, the ventral lobe initiated a dorsally directed wave along the distal edge of the caudal fin. The relative timing of the intrinsic caudal muscles varied between maneuvers, and their activation was independent of the activity of the red muscle of the axial myomeres in the caudal region. There was no coupling of muscle activity duration and electromyographic burst intensity in the intrinsic caudal muscles during maneuvers, as was observed in previous work on steady swimming. Principal-component analysis produced four components that cumulatively explained 73.6% of the variance and segregated kick-and-glide, braking and backing maneuvers from each other and from steady swimming. The activity patterns of the intrinsic caudal muscles during maneuvering suggest motor control independent from myotomal musculature, and specialization of individual muscles for specific kinematic roles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-286
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


  • Caudal fin
  • Electromyography
  • Fish muscle
  • Kinematics
  • Locomotion
  • Maneuvering
  • Swimming


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