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Lateral line system acts as sonar: fish


Lateral line in the common roach / Piet Spaans / LicenseCC-by-sa - Attribution Share Alike

Neuromasts of the lateral line system of fish help them navigate by sensing their own waves, reflected back from surrounding objects, which are deflected by minute sensory cells embedded in jelly.

"The lateral line system is a kind of underwater sonar and is very similar to the sonar-based navigation system employed by bats. But instead of listening to ultrasonic squeaks bouncing back from solid objects, the fish is able to feel the movement of water reflected back against its body from objects around it. The lateral line system consists of a horizontal groove running along each flank and onto the head, where it splits into three shorter grooves. Within each groove is a line of tiny sense organs known as neuromasts. A neuromast consists of several minute sensory cells whose hairs are embedded together within a triangular tongue of jelly called a cupula. As a fish swims, its movements create ripples or waves in the water that travel outward until they make contact with an object in the fish's surroundings, whereupon they bounce back toward the fish. The returning vibrations are deflected by the neuromasts' cupulae, thereby stimulating nerve connections to the brain, which give the fish sophisticated information about its surroundings. Neuromasts also cover the entire surface of a fish's skin, and can serve as normal touch receptors, responding to physical contact with objects as well as vibrations." (Shuker 2001: 34)
About the inspiring organism
Astyanax fasciatus
Astyanax fasciatus (non Cuvier, 1819)
Common name: Mexican tetra

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: FishBase
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Protective equipment for tidal energy facilities.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Marine navigation, tidal energy

Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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over 4 years ago
The CoTeSys (COgnition for TEchnical SYStems) group at the Technical University of Munich have built an underwater robot called 'Snookie' that has a biomimic artificial lateral line, enabling it to detect and move around underwater obstructions in turbid water and darkness. YouTube video:
The robot also bears a strong resemblance to R2D2 for some reason.
over 6 years ago
An artificial lateral line has been recently described by Yang et al. (ref. below) which may become useful in the future in man-made underwater vehicles and marine robots.

Y. Yang, N .Nguyen, N. Chen, M. Lockwood, C. Tucker, H. Hu, H. Bleckmann, C. Liu and D.L. Jones. Artificial lateral line with biomimetic neuromasts to emulate fish sensing. Bioinsp. Biomim. 5 (2010) 016001 (9pp). doi:10.1088/1748-3182/5/1/016001-
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