Optimal movement in the prey strikes of weakly electric fish: A case study of the interplay of body plan and movement capability

Claire M. Postlethwaite, Tiffany M. Psemeneki, Jangir Selimkhanov, Mary Silber, Malcolm A. MacIver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Animal behaviour arises through a complex mixture of biomechanical, neuronal, sensory and control constraints. By focusing on a simple, stereotyped movement, the prey capture strike of a weakly electric fish, we show that the trajectory of a strike is one which minimizes effort. Specifically, we model the fish as a rigid ellipsoid moving through a fluid with no viscosity, governed by Kirchhoff's equations. This formulation allows us to exploit methods of discrete mechanics and optimal control to compute idealized fish trajectories that minimize a cost function. We compare these with the measured prey capture strikes of weakly electric fish from a previous study. The fish has certain movement limitations that are not incorporated in the mathematical model, such as not being able to move sideways. Nonetheless, we show quantitatively that the computed least-cost trajectories are remarkably similar to the measured trajectories. Since, in this simplified model, the basic geometry of the idealized fish determines the favourable modes of movement, this suggests a high degree of influence between body shape and movement capability. Simplified minimal models and optimization methods can give significant insight into how body morphology and movement capability are closely attuned in fish locomotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-433
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number34
StatePublished - May 6 2009


  • Animal locomotion
  • Discrete mechanics
  • Optimal control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


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