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The orientation of muscle fibres in the myomeres of fishes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2009

R. McN. Alexander
Department of Zoology, University College of North Wales, Bangor


The superficial red muscle fibres of gnathostome fishes run more or less longitudinally, but the deeper muscle fibres are arranged in complex three-dimensional patterns in which some of them make angles of 30° or more with the long axis of the fish. There are two basic patterns, of which one is found in all the myomeres of selachians, primitive bony fishes, Anguilla and Salmo. In the other teleosts which were examined this pattern is restricted to the last few myomeres, and a quite different pattern is found more anteriorly.

In a fish with muscle fibres running longitudinally the lateral fibres would be able to contract far more than those near the vertebral column. However, from mathematical analyses included in this paper it appears that both the patterns which have been found should result in all the white fibres in a myomere contracting to a fairly similar extent when the fish bends. This seems likely to be advantageous because a muscle fibre of given intrinsic speed produces maximum power output at one particular rate of contraction.

A given rate of contraction of the muscle fibres results in faster bending if the fibres are arranged in the typical teleost pattern than if they are arranged in the selachian pattern.

The selachian pattern is probably retained in the caudal peduncles of teleosts because the faster bending is obtained only at the expense of weaker bending moments. The caudal peduncle is slender and would be less able to transmit large forces to the caudal fin if the teleost pattern of muscle fibres were continued to its posterior end.

Research Article
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 1969

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