Biomechanics of swimming in developing larval fish

Cees J. Voesenek, Florian T. Muijres, Johan L. Van Leeuwen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Most larvae of bony fish are able to swim almost immediately after hatching. Their locomotory system supports several vital functions: fish larvae make fast manoeuvres to escape from predators, aim accurately during suction feeding and maymigrate towards suitable future habitats. Owing to their small size and low swimming speed, larval fish operate in the intermediate hydrodynamic regime, which connects the viscous and inertial flow regimes. They experience relatively strong viscous effects at low swimming speeds, and relatively strong inertial effects at their highest speeds. As the larvae grow and increase swimming speed, a shift occurs towards the inertial flow regime. To compensate for sizerelated limitations on swimming speed, fish larvae exploit high tail beat frequencies at their highest speeds, made possible by their low body inertia and fast neuromuscular system. The shifts in flow regime and body inertia lead to changing functional demands on the locomotory system during larval growth. To reach the reproductive adult stage, the developing larvae need to adjust to and perform the functions necessary for survival. Just after hatching, many fish larvae rely on yolk and need to develop their feeding systems before the yolk is exhausted. Furthermore, the larvae need to develop and continuously adjust their sensory, neural and muscular systems to catch prey and avoid predation. This Review discusses the hydrodynamics of swimming in the intermediate flow regime, the changing functional demands on the locomotory system of the growing and developing larval fish, and the solutions that have evolved to accommodate these demands.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Cost of transport
  • Energetics of locomotion
  • Escape manoeuvre
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Muscle development
  • Zebrafish


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