Development of the escape response in teleost fishes: Do ontogenetic changes enable improved performance?

Alice C. Gibb, Brook O. Swanson, Heather Wesp, Cydney Landels, Corina Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Teleost fishes typically first encounter the environment as free-swimming embryos or larvae. Larvae are morphologically distinct from adults, and major anatomical structures are unformed. Thus, larvae undergo a series of dramatic morphological changes until they reach adult morphology (but are reproductively immature) and are considered juveniles. Free-swimming embryos and larvae are able to perform a C-start, an effective escape response that is used evade predators. However, escape response performance improves during early development: as young fish grow, they swim faster (length-specific maximum velocity increases) and perform the escape more rapidly (time to complete the behavior decreases). These improvements cease when fish become juveniles, although absolute swimming velocity (m s-1) continues to increase. We use studies of escape behavior and ontogeny in California halibut (Paralichthys californicus), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and razorback suckers (Xyrauchen texanus) to test the hypothesis that specific morphological changes improve escape performance. We suggest that formation of the caudal fin improves energy transfer to the water and therefore increases thrust production and swimming velocity. In addition, changes to the axial skeleton during the larval period produce increased axial stiffness, which in turn allows the production of a more rapid and effective escape response. Because escape performance improves as adult morphology develops, fish that enter the environment in an advanced stage of development (i.e., those with direct development) should have a greater ability to evade predators than do fish that enter the environment at an early stage of development (i.e., those with indirect development).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-19
Number of pages13
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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