Magazine article Science News

How Fish Swim: Study Solves Muscle Mystery

Magazine article Science News

How Fish Swim: Study Solves Muscle Mystery

Article excerpt

Bolting like startled gazelles to avoid predators or trekking across oceans on seasonal migrations, fish use different kinds of muscles for different kinds of locomotion. Now, researchers have shown for the first time how fish use one of those muscle types to cruise as effortlessly through water as a hawk riding a canyon updraft.

The new study contradicts a widely accepted theory of how fish convert muscle contractions into steady-pace swimming, says biologist Lawrence C. Rome of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Scientists have come up with theories to explain how fish swim, he says, "but nobody had done the definitive experiment."

It comes down to power: where in its musculature a fish generates swimming power and how this power is transmitted to the tail. Fish use two strips of blood-rich "red" muscle - one on either side of their bodies - to power the wavy motion of steady swimming.

Conventional wisdom holds that contractions in the front part of red muscle generate a fish's cruising power. The middle and rear portions function much like the rigid driveshaft of a truck: They transmit power from the engine (the front of the red muscle) to the rear wheels (the fish's tail).

Rome says he has disproved this theory by making the first direct measurements of where and how fish generate swimming power. His experiments show that most of the locomotive power for steady swimming comes from the fish's driveshaft - the area of the red muscle nearest the tail. …

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