Head width influences flow sensing by the lateral line canal system in fishes

Yuzo R. Yanagitsuru, Otar Akanyeti, James C. Liao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (SciVal)


The architecture of the cephalic lateral line canal system, with distinct lines for the supraorbital, infraorbital and mandibular canals, is highly conserved among fish species. Because these canals lie on a cranial platform, the sensory input they receive is expected to change based on how flow interacts with the head and how the canal pores are spatially distributed. In this study, we explored how head width, a trait that can vary greatly between species and across ontogeny, affects flow sensing. We inserted pressure sensors into physical fish head models of varying widths (narrow, intermediate and wide) and placed these models in steady and vortical flows. We measured sensory performance in terms of detecting flow parameters (flow speed, vortex shedding frequency and cylinder diameter), sensitivity (change in pressure gradient as a function of flow speed) and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR; strength of vortex shedding frequency with respect to background). Our results show that in all model heads the amount of hydrodynamic information was maximized at the anterior region regardless of what metric we used to evaluate the sensory performance. In addition, we discovered that all model heads had the highest SNR for vortices at the intermediate flow speeds but that each head width passively optimized the SNR for different sized vortices, which may have implications for refuge and prey seeking. Our results provide insight into the sensory ecology of fishes and have implications for the design of autonomous underwater vehicles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb180877
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
Early online date07 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2018


  • Head morphology
  • Lateral line canal system
  • Pressure sensing
  • Vortex street
  • Animals
  • Models, Biological
  • Head/anatomy & histology
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Lateral Line System/physiology
  • Pressure
  • Fishes/anatomy & histology
  • Water Movements


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