A fish out of water flops – everyone knows that. But while most fish flail in place when they’ve got no water to push on, a few species can flip into a controlled long jump that sends them flying several times their body length in one direction. How far can these fish jump? Take a look at this mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) in flight.
Pretty cool, eh? Understanding that jump is the subject of a paper published today in the Journal of Experimental Zoology by Alice Gibb, Miriam Ashley-Ross, Cinnamon Pace, and my former grad school officemate John Long. They noticed that these jumps looked a lot like the movements a swimming fish makes to escape predators – called a “c-start” for the characteristic letter-shape the fish bends into – and they figured that the fish were co-opting their aquatic escape behavior for moving efficiently on land. But when they looked more closely, they found that there were some important differences.
For one, on land, the fish don’t bend their tail and head toward the middle of the body evenly as they would in a watery c-start. Instead, they swing head toward tail, bending the body in a sharp curve before a push from the tail launches the fish into the air. The difference seems small, but it implies that the fish are using the same set of muscles differently on land and underwater. So if one of these fish gets stranded on land, the same muscles that produce a rapid-fire snap-and-dart in the water can shift to a slower rhythm that gives the fish a better chance of getting back in the water.
(And more videos at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/acg/video.html)