Two areas that have received substantial attention in investigations of muscle activity during fish swimming are (1) patterns of fiber type recruitment with swimming speed and (2) the timing of muscle activation in relation to muscle strain. Currently, very little is known about either of these areas in eels, which represent an extreme body form among fishes and utilize a mode of locomotion found at one end of the undulatory spectrum (anguilliform locomotion). To assess how this swimming mode and body form influence the neuromuscular control of swimming, I recorded electromyographic data from red and white muscle at four positions, 0.3L, 0.45L, 0.6L and 0.75L, where L is body length, in eels (Anguilla rostrata) simultaneously video-taped (250 fields s-1) swimming at three speeds, 0.5, 0.75 and 1.0 L s-1. As in other fish, exclusively red muscle is used at slow swimming speeds and white muscle is additionally recruited at higher swimming speeds. However, this study also revealed a novel posterior-to-anterior pattern of muscle recruitment with increasing swimming speed. At slow speeds, anteriorly located muscles are never active, muscle strain is negligible and forward thrust must be generated by posterior muscles. As speed increases, more anterior muscles are additionally recruited. Electromyogram (EMG) burst durations typically occupy between 0.2 and 0.3 undulatory cycles, irrespective of speed or position. EMG burst intensity increases significantly with swimming speed. The onset of EMG activity typically occurred near the end of muscle lengthening, whereas the offset of EMG activity occurred during shortening (typically before the muscle's return to resting length). There was a significant shift in red muscle onset times such that anterior muscles were typically active later in their strain cycle than posterior muscles. When red muscle activity patterns across various fish taxa are compared, differences in propulsive wavelength among species are related to differences in muscle activity, providing insight into the underlying neuromuscular bases of differences among undulatory swimming modes.
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