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Flying Copepods

By Leonard Ho - Posted Mar 23, 2012 08:00 AM
Did you know some copepods can "fly?" Science has known about this phenomenon for over a century but has never figured out why some copepods will leap great distances (relative to their body sizes) out of water. With the help of modern equipment and math, researchers now have their answer.
Flying Copepods

This pod can fly!

Energy Efficient

Pontellid copepods live near the ocean's surface where food (phytoplankton) is plentiful.  However, living in this open environment exposes them to increased predatory risk.  Some of these neustonic ("water surface dwelling") copepods escape predators by jumping out of the water - like flying fish - with a sudden kinetic burst.

While common sense might tell us expending so much energy to break the surface tension of the water is inefficient, the math shows otherwise.  This is because air is 850 times less dense than water.  The net energy required to travel through air after accounting for the energy required to break the water's surface is still less than the energy required to travel the same distance through water.

If you've observed copepods in your aquarium, you have probably witnessed the jerky bursts they use to dart from place to place.  Each burst will only take the copepod so far then it will have to burst again to cover more distance.  The researchers found that it takes less energy for a copepod to travel through air with a single burst compared to multiple underwater bursts.

This research by the University of Texas in Austin is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Here is a video of "flying" copepods escaping larval mulletfish (Mugil cephalus).

[via BBC News]

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.

Website: http://www.advancedaquarist.com.

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