Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 63–72 | Cite as

Characterization of the Aerial Escape Response of the African Butterfly Fish, Pantodon buchholzi Peters

  • William M. Saidel
  • Gabriel F. Strain
  • Shannon K. Fornari


We studied the startle response of the African butterfly fish, Pantodon buchholzi (Osteoglossomorpha, Osteoglossoidea). It is an upward movement, mediated by abduction of the pectoral fins, and is elicited by mechanical and visual stimuli. Because this fish inhabits the first few centimeters beneath the water surface, its startle response results in an aerial excursion that may be described as ballistic-like, following a motion as defined by linear acceleration. We show that the aerial excursion is well-modeled by a parabola. On average, a fish jumps no more than twice its height and travels horizontally about five times its standard length. The fish may exhibit variable in-flight trunk and fin movements, but neither increases the travel distance in air following the initial in-water propulsive event. Similar vertical jumps also occur entirely within the water column suggesting that this motor behavior of Pantodon is a general escape behavior analogous to a Mauthner neuron-induced escape response. The variability in its posture in air and its direction of motion after reentering the water enhances this act of vertical flight as a step in this fish's escape behavior. The aerial aspect of its escape behavior is only a consequence of its position in the water column.

startle reflex pectoral fin dependency flying fish 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • William M. Saidel
    • 1
  • Gabriel F. Strain
    • 1
  • Shannon K. Fornari
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology, Rutgersthe State University of New JerseyCamdenU.S.A

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