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Neuromechanics of Prey Capture

Sensing, tracking, and then attacking other animals to consume is one of the most highly evolved and complex behaviors animals perform. We study the mechanical and neural principles underlying this behavior in two model systems: the larval zebrafish, Danio rerio, and the black ghost electric knifefish, Apteronotus albifrons. Larval zebrafish are a leading vertebrate genetic model system. While only 4 mm long, their brains contain all the key vertebrate brain modules packaged within a completely transparent body. This enables visualization of the function of the nervous system at level beyond what is possible in any other vertebrate. In collaboration with Prof. David McLean at Northwestern, we are analyzing prey capture behavior and key midbrain circuits to understand how brains process complex stimuli in the generation of motor programs. Black ghost knifefish are an ideal system for detailed analysis of how the brain performs signal processing on sensory signals, and provide an exquisite system for the analysis of the mechanics of agility.

4 millimeter long larval zebrafish hunts 0.1 millimeter long Paramecium. Shot at 250 frames per second, movie exported at 30 FPS. Total actual time: just under one second.

The same prey capture event after automated tracking combined with some postprocessing to extract curvature (heat map), and body velocity (blue line) and body angle (green line).


Malcom MacIver
Matt Green
Kiran Bhattacharyya


Prof. David McLean, Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University

Past Collaborators: Bradley Patterson and Allie Salomon

Related Publications

B. W. Patterson, A. O. Abraham, M. A. MacIver, and D. L. McLean, Visually guided gradation of prey capture movements in larval zebrafish, The Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 16, no. 216, pp. 3071-3083, 04/2013/ 2013 DOI Google Scholar PDF

R. Ruiz-Torres, O. M. Curet, G. V. Lauder, and M. A. MacIver, Kinematics of the ribbon fin in hovering and swimming of the electric ghost knifefish, The Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 216, pp. 823-834, 2013 Google Scholar PDF PDF

C. M. Postlethwaite, T. M. Psemeneki, J. Selimkhanov, M. Silber, and M. A. MacIver, Optimal movement in the prey strikes of weakly electric fish a case study of the interplay of body plan and movement capability, Journal of The Royal Society Interface, vol. 6, The Royal Society, pp. 417-433, 2009 Google Scholar

J. B. Snyder, M. E. Nelson, J. Burdick, and M. A. MacIver, Omnidirectional sensory and motor volumes in electric fish, PLoS biology, vol. 5, Public Library of Science, pp. e301, 2007 DOI Google Scholar

M. E. Nelson, M. A. MacIver, and S. Coombs, Modeling electrosensory and mechanosensory images during the predatory behavior of weakly electric fish, Brain, behavior and evolution, vol. 59, Karger Publishers, pp. 199-210, 2002 Google Scholar

M. A. MacIver, N. M. Sharabash, and M. E. Nelson, Prey-capture behavior in gymnotid electric fish motion analysis and effects of water conductivity, Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 204, The Company of Biologists Ltd, pp. 543-557, 2001 Google Scholar

M. E. Nelson, and M. A. MacIver, Prey capture in the weakly electric fish Apteronotus albifrons sensory acquisition strategies and electrosensory consequences, Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 202, The Company of Biologists Ltd, pp. 1195-1203, 1999 Google Scholar

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