Larval Zebrafish Exhibit Collective Circulation in Confined Spaces

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Collective behavior may be elicited or can spontaneously emerge by a combination of interactions with the physical environment and conspecifics moving within that environment. To investigate the relative contributions of these factors in a small millimeter-scale swimming organism, we observed larval zebrafish, interacting at varying densities under circular confinement. If left undisturbed, larval zebrafish swim intermittently in a burst and coast manner and are socially independent at this developmental stage, before shoaling behavioral onset. Our aim was to explore the behavior these larvae as they swim together inside circular confinements. We report here our analysis of a new observation for this well-studied species: in circular confinement and at sufficiently high densities, the larvae collectively circle rapidly alongside the boundary. This is a new physical example of self-organization of mesoscale living active matter driven by boundaries and environment geometry. We believe this is a step forward toward using a prominent biological model system in a new interdisciplinary context to advance knowledge of the physics of social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number678600
JournalFrontiers in Physics
StatePublished - Sep 24 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


  • confined collective motion
  • living active matter
  • social interaction
  • swimmers
  • zebrafish


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