Locomotion of free-swimming ghost knifefish: Anal fin kinematics during four behaviors

Eric D. Youngerman, Brooke E. Flammang, George V. Lauder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The maneuverability demonstrated by the weakly electric ghost knifefish (. Apteronotus albifrons) is a result of its highly flexible ribbon-like anal fin, which extends nearly three-quarters the length of its body and is composed of approximately 150 individual fin rays. To understand how movement of the anal fin controls locomotion we examined kinematics of the whole fin, as well as selected individual fin rays, during four locomotor behaviors executed by free-swimming ghost knifefish: forward swimming, backward swimming, heave (vertical) motion, and hovering. We used high-speed video (1000. fps) to examine the motion of the entire anal fin and we measured the three-dimensional curvature of four adjacent fin rays in the middle of the fin during each behavior to determine how individual fin rays bend along their length during swimming. Canonical discriminant analysis separated all four behaviors on anal fin kinematic variables and showed that forward and backward swimming behaviors contrasted the most: forward behaviors exhibited a large anterior wavelength and posterior amplitude while during backward locomotion the anal fin exhibited both a large posterior wavelength and anterior amplitude. Heave and hover behaviors were defined by similar kinematic variables; however, for each variable, the mean values for heave motions were generally greater than for hovering. Individual fin rays in the middle of the anal fin curved substantially along their length during swimming, and the magnitude of this curvature was nearly twice the previously measured maximum curvature for ray-finned fish fin rays during locomotion. Fin rays were often curved into the direction of motion, indicating active control of fin ray curvature, and not just passive bending in response to fluid loading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-348
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Fin kinematics
  • Fin rays
  • Fish locomotion
  • Knifefish
  • Swimming behaviors


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