Armor is a multipurpose set of structures that has evolved independently at least 30 times in fishes. In addition to providing protection, armor can manipulate flow, increase camouflage, and be sexually dimorphic. There are potential tradeoffs in armor function: increased impact resistance may come at the cost of maneuvering ability; and ornate armor may offer visual or protective advantages, but could incur excess drag. Pacific spiny lumpsuckers (Eumicrotremus orbis) are covered in rows of odontic, cone-shaped armor whorls, protecting the fish from wave driven impacts and the threat of predation. We are interested in measuring the effects of lumpsucker armor on the hydrodynamic forces on the fish. Bigger lumpsuckers have larger and more complex armor which may incur a greater hydrodynamic cost. In addition to their protective armor, lumpsuckers have evolved a ventral adhesive disc, allowing them to remain stationary in their environment. We hypothesize a tradeoff between the armor and adhesion: little fish prioritize suction while big fish prioritize protection. Using micro-CT we compared armor volume to disc area over lumpsucker development and built 3D models to measure changes in drag over ontogeny. We found that drag and drag coefficients decrease with greater armor coverage and vary consistently with orientation. Adhesive disc area is isometric but safety factor increases with size, allowing larger fish to remain attached in higher flows than smaller fish.
R C Hoover and others, It Pays to Be Bumpy: Drag Reducing Armor in The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, Eumicrotremus Orbis, Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2023;63(3):796-807. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icad076
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