Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 198, Issue 1, pp 11–24 | Cite as

Alternative startle motor patterns and behaviors in the larval zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Original Paper


In fishes, the C-start behavior, initiated with a C-shaped body bend, is a taxonomically common and widely studied escape response. Its simple neural circuit has made this behavior a model for examining neural control of movement. The S-start, initiated with an S-shaped body bend, is a physiologically distinct escape that occurs in esocid fishes. Here we examine whether zebrafish larvae perform S-starts in order to better understand startle diversity and to attempt to identify the S-start in a system that is tractable for neurobiological studies. We found that larval zebrafish startles varied in the extent of their caudal bending, resulting in C, S and intermediate-shaped responses. We recorded two distinct motor patterns: nearly simultaneous initial activity along one side of the body, characteristic of C-starts, and nearly simultaneous activity rostrally on one side and caudally on the other, characteristic of S-starts. Head stimulation generally elicited C-starts while tail stimulation elicited C- and S-starts. These results demonstrate that the S-start is more common than previously documented and occurs in early developmental stages. We suggest that the S-start may be a fundamental escape behavior in fishes and may provide a comparative model to the C-start for understanding simple neural circuits.


Startle Zebrafish Motor control Swimming 



We thank Matt Green for technical training and assistance as well as comments on the manuscript. We thank Mark Westneat and Heather King and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript, and Ru Yi Teow for help with fish care. This research was funded by NSF grant IOS-0818788.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organismal Biology and AnatomyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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