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Published November 3, 2015 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Suction-based propulsion as a basis for efficient animal swimming


A central and long-standing tenet in the conceptualization of animal swimming is the idea that propulsive thrust is generated by pushing the surrounding water rearward. Inherent in this perspective is the assumption that locomotion involves the generation of locally elevated pressures in the fluid to achieve the expected downstream push of the surrounding water mass. Here we show that rather than pushing against the surrounding fluid, efficient swimming animals primarily pull themselves through the water via suction. This distinction is manifested in dominant low-pressure regions generated in the fluid surrounding the animal body, which are observed by using particle image velocimetry and a pressure calculation algorithm applied to freely swimming lampreys and jellyfish. These results suggest a rethinking of the evolutionary adaptations observed in swimming animals as well as the mechanistic basis for bio-inspired and biomimetic engineered vehicles.

Additional Information

© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Received 08 September 2015. Accepted 02 October 2015. Published 03 November 2015. We gratefully acknowledge Dr Jennifer Morgan at the Marine Biological Laboratory for providing the spinally transected lampreys, and Ms Samantha Collins for assistance in extracting body outlines from the videos of Eutonina swimming. Funding for this research was provided by the US Office of Naval Research and the US National Science Foundation. Author Contributions: B.J.G., S.P.C., J.H.C. and J.O.D. conceived the study; B.J.G., S.P.C. and J.H.C. collected the animal measurements; S.P.C and J.O.D. developed the analysis; J.O.D wrote the first draft and all authors contributed to revision of the manuscript. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplemental Material - ncomms9790-s1.pdf


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October 20, 2023