Active Sensing by Blind Cavefish and Their Sighted Ancestors

Blind cavefish are unable to scan their surroundings from a single vantage point by visual or other means (e.g. echolocation) to determine the spatial configuration of their distant surroundings. Rather, they must rely on short-range senses like touch and the flow-sensing lateral line system. The lateral line ‘touch-at-a-distance’ sense is arguably the best-suited among non-visual senses to give blind cavefish detailed spatial information about their immediate environment, as it enables them to actively form hydrodynamic images of stationary objects in much the same way that weakly electric fish use their electrosensory system to electrolocate. Instead of generating a weak electric field, however, blind cavefish generate a flow field as they swim through the water; the flow field is distorted by various environmental features (e.g. obstacles) when fish swim near them. We are collaborating with John Montgomery (University of Auckland) and Theresa Burt de Perera (Oxford) to ask questions about the sensorimotor (active sensing) strategies that blind cavefish use to explore and acquire spatial information about their environment and how these compare with strategies used by their sighted ancestors.

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Created by: Goran Savovski