Fishes regulate tail-beat kinematics to minimize speed-specific cost of transport

Gen Li*, Hao Liu*, Ulrike K. Müller, Cees J. Voesenek, Johan L. Van Leeuwen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Energetic expenditure is an important factor in animal locomotion. Here we test the hypothesis that fishes control tail-beat kinematics to optimize energetic expenditure during undulatory swimming. We focus on two energetic indices used in swimming hydrodynamics, cost of transport and Froude efficiency. To rule out one index in favour of another, we use computational-fluid dynamics models to compare experimentally observed fish kinematics with predicted performance landscapes and identify energy-optimized kinematics for a carangiform swimmer, an anguilliform swimmer and larval fishes. By locating the areas in the predicted performance landscapes that are occupied by actual fishes, we found that fishes use combinations of tail-beat frequency and amplitude that minimize cost of transport. This energy-optimizing strategy also explains why fishes increase frequency rather than amplitude to swim faster, and why fishes swim within a narrow range of Strouhal numbers. By quantifying how undulatory-wave kinematics affect thrust, drag, and power, we explain why amplitude and frequency are not equivalent in speed control, and why Froude efficiency is not a reliable energetic indicator. These insights may inspire future research in aquatic organisms and bioinspired robotics using undulatory propulsion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20211601
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1964
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2021


  • cost of transport
  • drag
  • fish swimming
  • optimization strategy
  • swimming energetics
  • tail-beat frequency


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