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J Exp Biol. 2011 Apr 1;214(Pt 7):1153-62. doi: 10.1242/jeb.046045.

Hydrodynamic stability of the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta): effects of four-limbed rowing versus forelimb flapping in rigid-bodied tetrapods.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, 132 Long Hall, Clemson, SC 29634, USA. grivera@iastate.edu


Hydrodynamic stability is the ability to resist recoil motions of the body produced by destabilizing forces. Previous studies have suggested that recoil motions can decrease locomotor performance, efficiency and sensory perception and that swimming animals might utilize kinematic strategies or possess morphological adaptations that reduce recoil motions and produce more stable trajectories. We used high-speed video to assess hydrodynamic stability during rectilinear swimming in the freshwater painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). Parameters of vertical stability (heave and pitch) were non-cyclic and variable, whereas measures of lateral stability (sideslip and yaw) showed repeatable cyclic patterns. In addition, because freshwater and marine turtles use different swimming styles, we tested the effects of propulsive mode on hydrodynamic stability during rectilinear swimming, by comparing our data from painted turtles with previously collected data from two species of marine turtle (Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas). Painted turtles had higher levels of stability than both species of marine turtle for six of the eight parameters tested, highlighting potential disadvantages associated with 'aquatic flight'. Finally, available data on hydrodynamic stability of other rigid-bodied vertebrates indicate that turtles are less stable than boxfish and pufferfish.

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