Fluid dynamics of the larval zebrafish pectoral fin and the role of fin bending in fluid transport

Matthew H. Green*, Oscar M. Curet, Neelesh A. Patankar, Melina E. Hale

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Larval zebrafish beat their pectoral fins during many behaviors including low-speed swimming and prey tracking; however, little is known about the functions of these fin movements. Previously, we found experimental support for the function of larval fins in mixing of fluid near the body, which may enhance respiration by diffusion of dissolved oxygen across the skin. Here we use computational fluid dynamics to analyze fluid flow due to the pectoral fin movement. The pectoral fins bend along their proximodistal axis during abduction (fin extension), but remain nearly rigid during adduction (fin flexion). We hypothesize that this asymmetry in bending is critical for fluid mixing near the body and test the effects of fin bending with our simulations. For normal fin beats, we observed similar flow patterns in simulations and experiments. Flow patterns showed fluid stretching and folding, indicative of mixing. When proximodistal bending was removed from fin motion, fins were less effective at transporting fluid in a posterior direction near the body surface, but lateral mixing of fluid near the body was unaffected. Our results suggest that fin bending enhances posterior transport of fluid along the body surface, which may act to aid respiration in combination with lateral stretching and folding of fluid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number016002
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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