Neuromechanical wave resonance in jellyfish swimming

Alexander P. Hoover, Nicole W. Xu, Brad J. Gemmell, Sean P. Colin, John H. Costello, John O. Dabiri, Laura A. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


For organisms to have robust locomotion, their neuromuscular organization must adapt to constantly changing environments. In jellyfish, swimming robustness emerges when marginal pacemakers fire action potentials throughout the bell's motor nerve net, which signals the musculature to contract. The speed of the muscle activation wave is dictated by the passage times of the action potentials. However, passive elastic material properties also influence the emergent kinematics, with time scales independent of neuromuscular organization. In this multimodal study, we examine the interplay between these two time scales during turning. A three-dimensional computational fluid-structure interaction model of a jellyfish was developed to determine the resulting emergent kinematics, using bidirectional muscular activation waves to actuate the bell rim. Activation wave speeds near the material wave speed yielded successful turns, with a 76-fold difference in turning rate between the best and worst performers. Hyperextension of the margin occurred only at activation wave speeds near the material wave speed, suggesting resonance. This hyperextension resulted in a 34-fold asymmetry in the circulation of the vortex ring between the inside and outside of the turn. Experimental recording of the activation speed confirmed that jellyfish actuate within this range, and flow visualization using particle image velocimetry validated the corresponding fluid dynamics of the numerical model. This suggests that neuromechanical wave resonance plays an important role in the robustness of an organism's locomotory system and presents an undiscovered constraint on the evolution of flexible organisms. Understanding these dynamics is essential for developing actuators in soft body robotics and bioengineered pumps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020025118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 16 2021


  • Fluid-structure interaction
  • Jellyfish
  • Maneuverability
  • Neuromechanics
  • Propulsion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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