Canal neuromasts enhance foraging in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Andres Carrillo, Dan Van Le, Margaret Byron, Houshuo Jiang, Matthew J. McHenry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Aquatic animals commonly sense flow using superficial neuromasts (SNs), which are receptors that extend from the body's surface. The lateral line of fishes is unique among these systems because it additionally possesses receptors, the canal neuromasts (CNs), that are recessed within a channel. The lateral line has inspired the development of engineered sensors and concepts in the analysis of flow fields for submersible navigation. The biophysics of CNs are known to be different from the SNs and thereby offer a distinct submodality. However, it is generally unclear whether CNs play a distinct role in behavior. We therefore tested whether CNs enhance foraging in the dark by zebrafish (Danio rerio), a behavior that we elicited with a vibrating rod. We found that juvenile fish, which have only SNs, bite at this rod at about one-third the rate and from as little as one-third the distance of adults for a high-frequency stimulus (50 < f < 100 Hz). We used novel techniques for manipulating the lateral line in adults to find that CNs offered only a modest benefit at a lower frequency (20 Hz) and that foraging was mediated entirely by cranial neuromasts. Consistent with our behavioral results, biophysical models predicted CNs to be more than an order of magnitude more sensitive than SNs at high frequencies. This enhancement helps to overcome the rapid spatial decay in high-frequency components in the flow around the stimulus. These findings contrast what has been previously established for fishes that are at least ten-times the length of zebrafish, which use trunk CNs to localize prey. Therefore, CNs generally enhance foraging, but in a manner that varies with the size of the fish and its prey. These results have the potential to improve our understanding of flow sensing in aquatic animals and engineered systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number035003
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 10 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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