Swimming in the lamprey
This chapter discusses swimming in insects and animals such as lamprey. Swimming by means of undulatory movements of the trunk is the main form of locomotion in most aquatic vertebrate species. Most information available on the nervous control of swimming has been obtained from the lamprey. The lamprey originates from a group of animals that diverged from the main evolutionary line of the vertebrates around 450 million years ago. The anatomical structure of the lamprey brainstem, spinal cord, sensory organs, and motor apparatus is in many respects similar to that in higher vertebrates. The functional and cellular organizations of the locomotor control mechanisms are also similar. The lamprey presents good opportunities for analytical studies of the neural networks controlling different motor functions. This is because it has fewer nerve cells of each type than higher vertebrates. An in vitro preparation of the brainstem and spinal cord has been developed that can remain in good condition for several days. The motor pattern underlying locomotion can be elicited in this isolated nervous system. The lamprey swims by producing alternating lateral undulating movements of the body, usually with a frequency range of 1–8 Hz. These caudally directed undulatory waves push the animal forward through the water. The higher the speed of propagation of the locomotor waves, the faster the lamprey will swim.
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