Journal Article

The structure and function of the sucker systems of hill stream loaches

Willis, J., Burt de Perera, T., Newport, C., Poncelet, G., Sturr, C.J. and Thomas, A.

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bioRxiv preprint November 21, 2019
This version posted November 21, 2019. The copyright holder for this preprint (which was not certified by peer review) is the author/funder, who has granted bioRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under CC-BY 4.0
Hill stream loaches (family Balitoridae and Gastromyzontidae) are thumb-sized fish that effortlessly exploit environments where flow rates are so high that potential competitors would be washed away. To cope with these extreme flow rates hill stream loaches have evolved adaptations to stick to the bottom, equivalent to the downforce generating wings and skirts of F1 racing cars, and scale architecture reminiscent of the drag-reducing riblets of Mako sharks. Hill stream loaches exhibit far more diverse flow-modifying morphological features than fast pelagic predators, suggesting as yet unknown drag reducing systems remain to be discovered. Here we describe the skeletal structure of Sewellia lineolata and Gastromyzon punctulatus and contrast that with other fish that face similar hydrodynamic challenges. We identify a major structural variation within Balitoridae pelvic sucker attachment positions which may explain fundamental constraints on the parallel development of different genera and which has not been described before. We also use high speed video capture, CT scans and Frustrated Total Internal Reflection to image and measure the sucker system in live operation and describe how it functions on a familiar activity for hill stream loaches (climbing waterfalls). We show how they can drag 3 to 4 times their own bodyweight up a vertical glass waterfall. Adaptations to high flow rates are the inspiration for this study, because there are many engineering applications where the ability to deal with high flow rates are important - either by reducing drag, or by generating the forces needed to hold an animal in place. Keywords: Tetrapod Girdle, Frustrated Total Internal Reflection, Point Tracking, CT Scan, drag-reduction, areodynamics.
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