Rutgers-Camden Student Researchers Pluck the Wings off African Butterfly Fish Myth

Rutgers-Camden Student Researchers Pluck the Wings off African Butterfly Fish Myth

For Immediate Release

CAMDEN A team of Rutgers UniversityCamden student researchers has debunked a century-old scientific belief that the African butterfly fish, with fins that look like wings, actually flies.

According to Rutgers-Camden undergraduates Jennifer Riley of Marlton, Kyle Perkins of Pennsauken, and Edison resident Rushil Kalola, the African butterfly fish does not flap its wing-like fins to achieve flight during its out-of-water experience. Instead, the aquatic creature moves like a ballistic missile, shooting upward at an impressive speed that enables escape from its predators.

The African butterfly fish uses those beguiling fins only during its launch. Once in the air, the fish doesnt glide, but is quickly pulled down by gravity. Due to the curvature of its body, it flops randomly back into the water and evades capture.

They move like a ballistic missile; they go up and then come down, says William Saidel, an associate professor of biology at Rutgers-Camden. Saidel has been studying the fish for its peculiar visual system. He directed the student researchers to examine the fishs unusual escape response from predators: it propels itself out of the water in one-fortieth of a second.

The Rutgers-Camden student researchers recorded the muscle potential involved in controlling the pectoral fins, which generate the African butterfly fishs jump upward. After planting a tiny pair of wires into the appropriate muscle, the students then startled the fish by banging on the aquarium glass. The Rutgers-Camden researchers compared the onset of the glass vibration with the onset of the fishs motor response. In addition, they studied the fishs precise body movement by filming its startle response with a 1,000-frame-per-second camera. Ultimately, the research team concluded that the nerve response to the muscle occurs within 1/200th of a second after the fish is stimulated.

Riley and Kalola (who currently is a student at Rutgers-New Brunswick) were awarded the best undergraduate oral presentation prize at the New Jersey Academy of Science meeting in April. The duo also has been nominated for the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award. A senior at Rutgers-Camden, Riley plans to study veterinary medicine next year. She is a 2003 graduate of Cherokee High School. Perkins is a sophomore business major at Rutgers-Camden.