Are Extreme Anatomical Modifications Required for Fish to Move Effectively on Land? Comparative Anatomy of the Posterior Axial Skeleton in the Cyprinodontiformes

Michael Minicozzi, Daniel Kimball, Alex Finden, Sarah Friedman, Alice C Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Many teleost fishes with no apparent modifications for life on land are able to produce effective terrestrial locomotor behaviors, including a ballistic behavior called the “tail-flip” jump. Cyprinodontiformes (killifishes, Teleostei: Atherinomorpha) that live at the water's edge vary in morphology and inclination to emerge onto land. Do fish with an amphibious predisposition have extensive modification of the propulsive region of the body when compared to fully aquatic relatives? We quantified body shape and anatomy of the caudal peduncle and tail (the propulsive organ on land and in water) in 11 cyprinodontiform species and two outgroup taxa (Atherinomorpha). We hypothesized that amphibious species would have longer, “shallower” bodies (larger body fineness ratios), deeper (proportionally larger) caudal peduncles, and more robust bones in the tail fin (larger ossified area of the hypural/epural bones) to facilitate locomotor movements on land. We found no evidence of convergence in body shape or skeletal anatomy among species known to make voluntary sojourns onto land. In fact, deep-bodied species, shallow-bodied species, and species with intermediate morphologies all are able to emerge from the water and move on land. It is possible that there are as-yet-undocumented subtle soft-tissue (muscle, tendon, and ligament) modifications that enhance terrestrial locomotor performance in species known to spend large periods of time on land. However, it is also possible that extreme anatomical changes are not required for aquatic cyprinodontiform species to produce effective locomotor movements when they emerge out of the water and move across the land. Anat Rec, 2019.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnatomical Record
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • amphibious fishes
  • caudal peduncle
  • neural and hemal spine
  • terrestrial locomotion
  • vertebral morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Biotechnology
  • Histology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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