If you ever get a chance, spend some time looking at fish muscles in a microscope. Larval zebrafish are perfect; they're transparent and you can trace all the fibers, so you can see everything. The body musculature of fish is most elegantly organized into repeating blocks of muscle along the length of the animal, each segment having a chevron ("V") or "W" shape. Here's a pretty stained photo of a 30 hour old zebrafish to show what I mean; it's a little weird because this one is from an animal with experimentally messed up gene expression, all that red and green stuff, but look at the lovely blue muscle fibers stretching across the length of each segment.
But wait—why the chevron shape? Also, the reason I told you to look in a microscope sometime is that a 2-D image can't illustrate the lovely intricacy of the muscles; they don't go straight across, but twist in a partial spiral in 3-dimensions. Trust me, it's beautiful to see. And it's also nearly universal in chordates — even Amphioxus has this arrangement. And there's a good biomechanical reason for this arrangment.
Each of those muscle fibers is attaching to a connective tissue band in the line between each block of muscle, called a myoseptum. The force of contraction of the muscles is going to pull on these connective tissue anchor points, stressing them. By organizing all of the fibers to pull at an angle rather than perpendicularly to the myoseptum, it reduces the amount of force directly applied to the septal connections by as much as 50-60%, depending on the angle, relative to the overall force of contraction applied to generate the bending movements.
An additional benefit is that the angle distributes the force generated by a single segment's contraction to a longer stretch of the notochord, the central springy rod that forms the main axis of the skeleton.
So why do fish do this? Because with powerful muscle contractions needed for fast swimming comes the potential for tearing connective tissue and buckling or damaging the central skeleton. These are adaptations for rapid, efficient swimming. They are also necessary for escape responses: startle a fish, and it makes an abrupt, massive contraction of these muscles to flick it out of danger. That behavior wouldn't be so useful if it ended up tearing muscle insertions and crippling the fish within seconds of its escape.
Which suggests that it would be interesting to look at fish that don't have these geometric properties. That's easy, too: just look at embryos! Below is a timelapse of the segments forming one by one in an embryonic zebrafish; it's very short and zips by, so I've also got a step by step breakdown of what's going on.
The key observation is that the segments initially form with straight up-and-down boundaries. Even within one animal, though, you can see a progression: the newest-formed segments are to the right, and older ones are to the left, and you should be able to see that they start out simple lozenge-shaped blocks, but within an hour they bend in the middle to form a chevron shape.
Embryos, obviously, are very poor swimmers and can generate only feeble contractions. They get stronger as more muscle fibers differentiate and as they bend into that more efficient conformation.
The morphology informs us about the physiology and behavior. We can get a good idea of what kind of swimming fossil organisms were capable of by looking at the shape of their body parts. Here, for instance, is the Cambrian chordate Pikaia, sufficiently well preserved in the Burgess Shale that we can actually see the arrangement of its muscles. Which are not impressive.
Pikaia was definitely not a darter, but more of a slow, undulating swimmer…and it wasn't very fast at that. We can put together a reasonable picture of the Pikaian life-style.
If one assumes that Pikaia was incapable of a fast escape from visual predators of the Anomalocaris type, a strategy of avoidance would likely be its preferred solution. Pikaia was probably not, therefore, an animal that spent a lot of time high up in the water column or near the surface dur- ing daylight hours. One could envisage it feeding inconspicuously near the bottom, perhaps cruising along and browsing on benthic detritus or microbial mats, direc- ted by its paired sensory tentacles. This accords with the conclusions of CMC that, from the mode of preservation, Pikaia was likely epibenthic rather than fully pelagic. Alternatively, it may have migrated vertically to spend time feeding at the surface, but only at night. Unfortunately, as the apparently tiny mouth is difficult to interpret in the fossils, there is little direct evidence from the morphology as to how Pikaia fed. Because the mouth was not large, it seems unlikely that Pikaia took in large volumes of water when feeding, however, as a suspension feeder normally would be expected to do.
A speedier chordate of the same era would have been Haikouichthys, which does have the complex segmental morphology of an efficient swimmer. Muscle morphology tells us that there were diverse behavioral strategies being played out by early chordates even in the Cambrian.
Lacalli T (2012) The Middle Cambrian fossil Pikaia and the evolution of chordate swimming. EvoDevo 3:12.
Does the relative V or Chevron shape of myomeres map out with existing fast and slow swimmers? Would the Icelandic shark, a slow swimmer, show flatter, less chevron-like or V-shaped, myomeres compared to, say, a blue fin tuna or blue marlin? Has the study been done showing a consistent relationship between myomere geometry and maximum swimming speed, and, more interestingly, are there any known exceptions?
The cambrians must have been drowned in the flood of Noah's time. Stupid secualr depressives still are pushing this idea of mud to monkey to man evolution scam. Oh well, it gives us something to laugh at.
Phillip, I never got the whole evolution fraud either. My church just laughs at the idea of it all. Now the same people are pushing this global governance funding climate change ponzi scheme crap too. What will their inferior minds think of next? Phillip, take a look at my own site and you will see the definition of laughter at liberal fiends. http://robhood.us/weblog.php
Hmmm. My powers tell me that the almighty internet censor fairies didst remove my last post. it's a shame. Now I shall cast a spell on thee. I smite thee with a curse. Thou shalt refrain from censoring lest ye be stricken with bony bunghole disease.
BLAAAAAAAAH. To inernet censor kooks.
Thank you yet again. I will definitly be referencing this in my own class.