Jumping Guppy Inspires Researcher To Look Further For Clues
April 26, 2013

Guppy Jumping Behavior Analyzed With High-Speed Videography And Digital Imaging

[ Watch the Video: Guppy Jumping High Speed Video ]

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

As anyone who has ever owned a pet guppy knows, guppies will often jump out of their tanks. Parents have been stumped for answers when children ask why the fish would do such a thing. A new University of Maryland (UMD) study demonstrates how guppies are able to jump so high, and suggests an answer for why they do it.

Biologist Daphne De Freitas Soares is an expert in the brain circuitry that controls animal behavior. While she was researching unrelated evolutionary changes in the brainstems of Poecilia reticulata — a wild guppy species from Trinidad — Soares decided to study jumping guppies after one jumped out of the laboratory tank and into her cup of chai.

“Fortunately it was iced chai and it had a lid on, so he stayed alive,” Soares said. “That was enough for me. I had to use a high speed camera to film what was going on.”

Soares and UMD biology lecturer Hilary S. Bierman analyzed the jumping behavior of nine wild Trinidadian guppies using high-speed videography and digital imaging. The findings of their study were published in a recent online issue of PLOS ONE.

According to the researchers, "the guppies started from a still position, swam backwards slowly, then changed direction and hurtled into the air." Preparing for the jump allowed the guppies to jump up to eight times their body length, and at speeds of more than four feet per second. This behavior has never before been reported.

The team concluded guppies jump on purpose. They don't believe however the guppies do not jump for the same reasons other fish do, such as to escape from predators, to catch prey, or to get past obstacles on seasonal migrations.

According to the team, jumping can serve an important evolutionary purpose in allowing guppies to reach all the available habitat in Trinidad's mountain streams. In dispersing this way, the fish move away from areas of heavy predation, minimize competition with one another, and keep the species´ genetic variability high, according to the study.

“Evolution is truly amazing,” added Soares, who conducted the study at no cost.