Locomotion with flexible propulsors: I. Experimental analysis of pectoral fin swimming in sunfish

Bioinspir Biomim. 2006 Dec;1(4):S25-34. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/1/4/S04. Epub 2006 Dec 22.


A full understanding of the mechanics of locomotion can be achieved by incorporating descriptions of (1) three-dimensional kinematics of propulsor movement, (2) material properties of the propulsor, (3) power input and control and (4) the fluid dynamics effects of propulsor motion into (5) a three-dimensional computational framework that models the complexity of propulsors that deform and change area. In addition, robotic models would allow for further experimental investigation of changes to propulsor design and for testing of hypothesized relationships between movement and force production. Such a comprehensive suite of data is not yet available for any flexible propulsor. In this paper, we summarize our research program with the goal of producing a comprehensive data set for each of the five components noted above through a study of pectoral fin locomotion in one species of fish: the bluegill sunfish Lepomis macrochirus. Many fish use pectoral fins exclusively for locomotion, and pectoral fins in most fish are integral to generating force during maneuvering. Pectoral fins are complex structures composed of jointed bony supports that are under active control via pectoral fin musculature. During propulsion in sunfish, the fin deforms considerably, has two leading edges, and sunfish can rotate the whole fin or just control individual sections to vector thrust. Fin material properties vary along the length of fin rays and among rays. Experimental fluid dynamic analysis of sunfish pectoral fin locomotion reveals that the fin generates thrust throughout the fin beat cycle, and that the upper and lower edges each produce distinct simultaneous leading edge vortices. The following companion paper provides data on the computational approach taken to understand locomotion using flexible pectoral fins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / methods
  • Elasticity
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology
  • Extremities / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Perciformes / anatomy & histology
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology*