The function of wall-following behaviors in the Mexican blind cavefish and a sighted relative, the Mexican tetra (Astyanax)

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2009 Mar;195(3):225-40. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0400-9. Epub 2008 Dec 18.


Mexican blind cavefish exhibit an unconditioned wall-following behavior in response to novel environments. Similar behaviors have been observed in a wide variety of animals, but the biological significance and evolutionary history of this behavior are largely unknown. In this study, the behaviors of Mexican blind cavefish (Astyanax sp.) and sighted Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) were videotaped after fish were introduced into a novel environment under dark (infrared) or well-lit conditions. Under dark conditions, both sighted and blind morphs exhibited wall-following behaviors with subtle but significant differences. Blind morphs swam more nearly parallel to the wall, exhibited greater wall-following continuity and reached higher levels of sustained swimming speeds more quickly than sighted morphs. In contrast, sighted morphs in the light remained motionless near the wall for long periods of time or moved slowly around the center of the tank without entraining to the walls. These results are consistent with the idea that wall-following is a shared, primitive trait that serves an exploratory function under dark conditions to compensate for the absence of vision. This behavior has become more honed in blind morphs for exploratory purposes--in large part due to the enhanced, active-flow sensing abilities of the lateral line.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blindness*
  • Environment*
  • Eye
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Video Recording / methods