The bodies of most swimming fishes are very flexible and deform as result of both external fluid dynamic forces and internal musculoskeletal forces. If fluid forces change, the body motion will also change unless the fish senses the change and alters its muscle activity to compensate. Lampreys and other fishes have mechanosensory cells in their spinal cords that allow them to sense how their body is bending. We hypothesized that lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) actively regulate body curvature to maintain a fairly constant swimming waveform even as swimming speed and fluid dynamic forces change. To test this hypothesis, we measured the steady swimming kinematics of lampreys swimming in normal water, and water in which the viscosity was increased by 10 or 20 times by adding methylcellulose. Increasing the viscosity over this range increases the drag coefficient, potentially increasing fluid forces up to 40%. Previous computational results suggested that if lampreys did not compensate for these forces, the swimming speed would drop by about 52%, the amplitude would drop by 39%, and posterior body curvature would increase by about 31%, while tail beat frequency would remain the same. Five juvenile sea lampreys were filmed swimming through still water, and midlines were digitized using standard techniques. Although swimming speed dropped by 44% from 1× to 10× viscosity, amplitude only decreased by 4%, and curvature increased by 7%, a much smaller change than the amount we estimated if there was no compensation. To examine the waveform overall, we performed a complex orthogonal decomposition and found that the first mode of the swimming waveform (the primary swimming pattern) did not change substantially, even at 20× viscosity. Thus, it appears that lampreys are compensating, at least partially, for the changes in viscosity, which in turn suggests that sensory feedback is involved in regulating the body waveform.

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