Extremely fast prey capture in pipefish is powered by elastic recoil

Sam Van Wassenbergh, James A. Strother, Brooke E. Flammang, Lara A. Ferry-Graham, Peter Aerts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The exceptionally high speed at which syngnathid fishes are able to rotate their snout towards prey and capture it by suction is potentially caused by a catapult mechanism in which the energy previously stored in deformed elastic elements is suddenly released. According to this hypothesis, tension is built up in tendons of the post-cranial muscles before prey capture is initiated. Next, an abrupt elastic recoil generates high-speed dorsal rotation of the head and snout, rapidly bringing the mouth close to the prey, thus enabling the pipefish to be close enough to engulf the prey by suction. However, no experimental evidence exists for such a mechanism of mechanical power amplification during feeding in these fishes. To test this hypothesis, inverse dynamical modelling based upon kinematic data from high-speed videos of prey capture in bay pipefish Syngnathus leptorhynchus, as well as electromyography of the muscle responsible for head rotation (the epaxial muscle) was performed. The remarkably high instantaneous muscle-mass-specific power requirement calculated for the initial phase of head rotation (up to 5795W kg-1), as well as the early onset times of epaxial muscle activity (often observed more than 300ms before the first externally discernible prey capture motion), support the elastic power enhancement hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-296
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number20
StatePublished - Mar 6 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


  • Elasticity
  • Electromyography
  • Energy storage
  • Feeding
  • Power amplification
  • Syngnathidae


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