Unsteady motion: escape jumps in planktonic copepods, their kinematics and energetics

Thomas Kiørboe, Anders Peter Andersen, Vincent J. Langlois, Hans Henrik Jakobsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We describe the kinematics of escape jumps in three species of 0.3–3.0 mm-sized planktonic copepods. We find similar kinematics between species with periodically alternating power strokes and passive coasting and a resulting highly fluctuating escape velocity. By direct numerical simulations, we estimate the force and power output needed to accelerate and overcome drag. Both are very high compared with those of other organisms, as are the escape velocities in comparison to startle velocities of other aquatic animals. Thus, the maximum weight-specific force, which for muscle motors of other animals has been found to be near constant at 57 N (kg muscle)−1, is more than an order of magnitude higher for the escaping copepods. We argue that this is feasible because most copepods have different systems for steady propulsion (feeding appendages) and intensive escapes (swimming legs), with the muscular arrangement of the latter probably adapted for high force production during short-lasting bursts. The resulting escape velocities scale with body length to power 0.65, different from the size-scaling of both similar sized and larger animals moving at constant velocity, but similar to that found for startle velocities in other aquatic organisms. The relative duration of the pauses between power strokes was observed to increase with organism size. We demonstrate that this is an inherent property of swimming by alternating power strokes and pauses. We finally show that the Strouhal number is in the range of peak propulsion efficiency, again suggesting that copepods are optimally designed for rapid escape jumps.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number52
Pages (from-to)1591-1602
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • escape velocity
  • startle response
  • muscle power
  • Strouhal number
  • hydrodynamics
  • muscle force


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