In a bid to understand behaviour which could be valuable to underwater robotics, scientists led by the University of Bristol have been studying the lateral line sensing organ in African cichlid fish (and which is found in almost all fish species).
The organ allows fish to sense and interpret water pressures around them with enough detail to detect external influences such as predators, obstacles, other fishes and even changes in water flow. The lateral line system as a whole is distributed over the head, trunk and tail of the fish and is comprised of mechanoreceptors (neuromasts) that are either within subdermal channels or on the surface of the skin.
Researchers discovered that the lateral line system around the head has the most important influence on how well fish are able to swim in a shoal, Meanwhile, the presence of more lateral line sensory units, neuromasts, that are found under the skin result in fish swimming closer together, while a greater presence of neuromasts on the skin tend to result in fish swimming further apart.
Lead author Elliott Scott of the University’s Department of Engineering Mathematics said, “These findings provide a better understanding of how the lateral line informs shoaling behaviour in fish, while also contributing a novel design of inexpensive pressure sensor that could be useful on underwater robots that have to navigate in dark or murky environments.”
The paper is published in Royal Society Open Science.
Image: “Fish shoaling over the reef, German Channel, Palau” by mattk1979 CC BY-SA 2.0