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Published in: The Biological bulletin, Vol. 220, 2011.


Swimming animals may experience significant changes in the Reynolds number (Re) of their surrounding fluid flows throughout ontogeny. Many medusae experience Re environments with significant viscous forces as small juveniles but inertially dominated Re environments as adults. These different environments may affect their propulsive strategies. In particular, rowing, a propulsive strategy with ecological advantages for large adults, may be constrained by viscosity for small juvenile medusae. We examined changes in the bell morphology and swimming kinematics of the limnomedusa Liriope tetraphylla at different stages of development. L. tetraphylla maintained an oblate bell (fineness ratio _ 0.5–0.6), large velar aperture ratio (Rv _ 0.5– 0.8), and rapid bell kinematics throughout development. These traits enabled it to use rowing propulsion at all stages except the very smallest sizes observed (diameter _ 0.14 cm). During the juvenile stage, very rapid bell kinematics served to increase Re sufficiently for rowing propulsion. Other taxa that use rowing propulsion as adults, such as leptomedusae and scyphomedusae, typically utilize different propulsive strategies as small juveniles to function in low Re environments. We compared the performance values of the different propulsive modes observed among juvenile medusae.

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