Swimming behavior and hydrodynamics of the Chinese cavefish Sinocyclocheilus rhinocerous and a possible role of its head horn structure

PLoS One. 2022 Jul 25;17(7):e0270967. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270967. eCollection 2022.


The blind troglobite cavefish Sinocyclocheilus rhinocerous lives in oligotrophic, phreatic subterranean waters and possesses a unique cranial morphology including a pronounced supra-occipital horn. We used a combined approach of laboratory observations and Computational Fluid Dynamics modeling to characterize the swimming behavior and other hydrodynamic aspects, i.e., drag coefficients and lateral line sensing distance of S. rhinocerous. Motion capture and tracking based on an Artificial Neural Network, complemented by a Particle Image Velocimetry system to map out water velocity fields, were utilized to analyze the motion of a live specimen in a laboratory aquarium. Computational Fluid Dynamics simulations on flow fields and pressure fields, based on digital models of S. rhinocerous, were also performed. These simulations were compared to analogous simulations employing models of the sympatric, large-eyed troglophile cavefish S. angustiporus. Features of the cavefish swimming behavior deduced from the both live-specimen experiments and simulations included average swimming velocities and three dimensional trajectories, estimates for drag coefficients and potential lateral line sensing distances, and mapping of the flow field around the fish. As expected, typical S. rhinocerous swimming speeds were relatively slow. The lateral line sensing distance was approximately 0.25 body lengths, which may explain the observation that specimen introduced to a new environment tend to swim parallel and near to the walls. Three-dimensional simulations demonstrate that just upstream from the region under the supra-occipital horn the equipotential of the water pressure and velocity fields are nearly vertical. Results support the hypothesis that the conspicuous cranial horn of S. rhinocerous may lead to greater stimulus of the lateral line compared to fish that do not possess such morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Characidae*
  • China
  • Cyprinidae* / anatomy & histology
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Swimming
  • Water


  • Water

Grants and funding

The funder (the National Natural Scientific Foundation of China) only provide financial support for the research, and the authors Fakai Lei and Mengzhen Xu from the funders (The State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering and The Tsinghua University) carried the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.