Prey tracking by larval zebrafish: axial kinematics and visual control

Brain Behav Evol. 2005;66(3):177-96. doi: 10.1159/000087158. Epub 2005 Jul 25.


High-speed imaging was used to record the prey-tracking behavior of larval zebrafish as they fed upon paramecium. Prey tracking is comprised of a variable set of discrete locomotor movements that together align the larva with the paramecium and bring it into close proximity, usually within one body length. These tracking behaviors are followed by a brief capture swim bout that was previously described [Borla et al., 2002]. Tracking movements were classified as either swimming or turning bouts. The swimming bouts were similar to a previously characterized larval slow swim [Budick and O'Malley, 2000], but the turning movements consisted of unique J-shaped bends which appear to minimize forward hydrodynamic disturbance when approaching the paramecium. Such J-turn tracking bouts consisted of multiple unilateral contractions to one side of the body. J-turns slowly and moderately alter the orientation of the larva - this is in contrast to previously described escape and routine turns. Tracking behaviors appear to be entirely visually guided. Infra-red (IR) imaging of locomotor behaviors in a dark environment revealed a complete absence of tracking behaviors, even though the normal repertoire of other locomotive behaviors was recorded. Concomitantly, such larvae were greatly impaired in consuming paramecia. The tracking behavior is of interest because it indicates the presence of sophisticated locomotor control circuitry in this relatively simple model organism. Such locomotor strategies may be conserved and elaborated upon by other larval and adult fishes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Larva
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*