Cardiac output, blood flow to the coeliac and mesenteric arteries, dorsal aortic blood pressure and heart rate were recorded simultaneously at rest and postprandial for 6 days in a teleost, the red Irish lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus). We anticipated that gastrointestinal blood flow would increase postprandially, supported by an increase in cardiac output. However, we had no predictions for either the exact time-course of this response, or for the regional distribution of blood flow between to the two major arteries comprising the splanchnic circulation. In resting, unfed animals, blood flow to the coeliac artery and mesenteric artery was 4.1 +/- 0.6 ml min(-1) kg(-1) and 4.9 +/-1.3 ml min(-1) kg(-1), respectively (mean +/- SEM, n = 7), which together represented 34% of cardiac output. Feeding increased blood flow to the coeliac and mesenteric arteries in a time-dependent manner. The increase in coeliac artery blood flow preceded that in the mesenteric artery, a finding that is consistent with the coeliac artery supplying blood to the liver and stomach, while the mesenteric artery supplies blood to the stomach and intestine. Coeliac blood flow had increased by 84 +/- 18% after 1 day and had a peak increase of 112 +/- 40% at day 4 postprandial. Mesenteric blood flow was not significantly elevated at day 1, but had increased by 94 +/- 19% at day 4 postprandial. Cardiac output also increased progressively, increasing by a maximum of 90 +/- 30% at day 4. Because the increase in cardiac output was adequate to meet the postprandial increase in gut blood flow, the postprandial decreases in vascular resistance for the coeliac and mesenteric circulations mirrored the increases in blood flow. Intra-arterial injections of adrenaline and noradrenaline into resting fish more than doubled coeliac and mesenteric vascular resistances, and blood flow decreased proportionately. This adrenergic vasoconstriction was totally abolished by pretreatment with the alpha-adrenoceptor antagonist phentolamine, which in itself approximately halved coeliac and mesenteric vascular resistances. These observations indicate a significant alpha-adrenergic tone in the gastrointestinal circulation of the red Irish lord, the loss of which could not entirely account for the post-prandial increase in gastrointestinal blood flow. Other control mechanisms are suggested.