A walking behavior generates functional overland movements in the tidepool sculpin, Oligocottus maculosus

Noah R. Bressman, Alice C. Gibb, Stacy C. Farina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Tidepool sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus) have been observed moving overland in the rocky intertidal, and we documented the terrestrial walking behavior that they use to accomplish this. We quantified the terrestrial movements of O. maculosus and compared them to (1) their aquatic locomotion, (2) terrestrial locomotion of closely-related subtidal species (Leptocottus armatus and Icelinus borealis), and (3) terrestrial movements of walking catfishes (Clarias spp.). We recorded sculpin movements (210 fps) on a terrestrial platform and in a water tank and tracked body landmarks for kinematic analysis. The axial-appendage-based terrestrial locomotion of O. maculosus is driven by cyclic lateral oscillations of the tail, synchronized with alternating rotations about the base of the pectoral fins, a behavior that appears similar to a military “army crawl.” The pectoral fins do not provide propulsion, but act as stable points for the body to rotate around. In contrast, individuals of O. maculosus use primarily axial undulation during slow-speed swimming. The army crawl is a more effective terrestrial behavior (greater distance ratio) than the movements produced by L. armatus and I. borealis, which use rapid, cyclic oscillations of the tail, without coordinated pectoral fin movements. Relative to Clarias spp., O. maculosus rotated the body about the base of the pectoral fin, rather than the tip of the fin, which may cause O. maculosus to have a lower distance ratio. Since O. maculosus lack major morphological adaptations for terrestrial locomotion, instead relying on behavioral adaptations, we propose behavioral adaptations may evolutionarily predate morphological adaptations for terrestrial locomotion in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Cottoidea
  • Icelinus
  • Intertidal zone
  • Leptocottus
  • Terrestrial locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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