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J Exp Biol. 2002 Nov;205(Pt 21):3321-6.

Predicting three-dimensional target motion: how archer fish determine where to catch their dislodged prey.

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Institut für Biologie I, Hauptstrasse 1, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany.


On locating an insect prey on a twig above the water surface, a group of archer fish can shoot it down using powerful jets of water. The insect, dislodged by one of the shots, falls on a ballistic path towards the water surface, where it is devoured by the first fish to arrive. We report that the archer fish can predict the point where the dislodged prey will later hit the water surface and move in a straight line towards that point, thus enabling it to arrive as fast as possible. Only about 100 ms after prey is dislodged, the fish initiate a quick turn that aligns their body axis right towards where the prey will later land, and not to the actual position of the prey at that moment. In contrast to other known examples of three-dimensional target interception in man and animals, archer fish can head straight to the predicted point of catch without the need of any further visual feedback. Moreover, archer fish can predict the point of incidence of a target, regardless of the angle at which the prey takes off with respect to the initial orientation of the fish. To perform this remarkable task, archer fish extract a minimum set of independent variables that fix the point of incidence, but do not extrapolate the target's spatial trajectory.

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