Gait and speed selection in slender inertial swimmers

Mattia Gazzola, Médéric Argentina, L. Mahadevan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inertial swimmers use flexural movements to push water and generate thrust. We quantify this dynamical process for a slender body in a fluid by accounting for passive elasticity and hydrodynamics and active muscular force generation and proprioception. Our coupled elastohydrodynamic model takes the form of a nonlinear eigenvalue problem for the swimming speed and locomotion gait. The solution of this problem shows that swimmers use quantized resonant interactions with the fluid environment to enhance speed and efficiency. Thus, a fish is like an optimized diode that converts a prescribed alternating transverse motion to forward motion. Our results also allow for a broad comparative view of swimming locomotion and provide a mechanistic basis for the empirical relation linking the swimmer's speed U, length L, and tail beat frequency f, given by U =L ∼ f [Bainbridge R (1958) J Exp Biol 35:109-133]. Furthermore, we show that a simple form of proprioceptive sensory feedback, wherein local muscle activation is function of body curvature, suffices to drive elastic instabilities associated with thrust production and leads to a spontaneous swimming gait without the need for a central pattern generator. Taken together, our results provide a simple mechanistic view of swimming consistent with natural observations and suggest ways to engineer artificial swimmers for optimal performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3874-3879
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 31 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Gait selection
  • Inertial swimming
  • Proprioception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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