Complex flow in the nasal region of guitarfishes

Mawuli P. K. Agbesi, Sara Naylor, Elizabeth Perkins, Heather S. Borsuk, Dan Sykes, James S. Maclaine, Zhijin Wang, Jonathan P. L. Cox

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Scent detection in an aquatic environment is dependent on the movement of water. We set out to determine the mechanisms for moving water through the olfactory organ of guitarfishes (Rhinobatidae, Chondrichthyes) with open nasal cavities. We found at least two. In the first mechanism, which we identified by observing dye movement in the nasal region of a life-sized physical model of the head of Rhinobatos lentiginosus mounted in a flume, olfactory flow is generated by the guitarfish's motion relative to water, e.g. when it swims. We suggest that the pressure difference responsible for motion-driven olfactory flow is caused by the guitarfish's nasal flaps, which create a region of high pressure at the incurrent nostril, and a region of low pressure in and behind the nasal cavity. Vortical structures in the nasal region associated with motion-driven flow may encourage passage of water through the nasal cavity and its sensory channels, and may also reduce the cost of swimming. The arrangement of vortical structures is reminiscent of aircraft wing vortices. In the second mechanism, which we identified by observing dye movement in the nasal regions of living specimens of Glaucostegus typus, the guitarfish's respiratory pump draws flow through the olfactory organ in a rhythmic (0.5–2 Hz), but continuous, fashion. Consequently, the respiratory pump will maintain olfactory flow whether the guitarfish is swimming or at rest. Based on our results, we propose a model for olfactory flow in guitarfishes with open nasal cavities, and suggest other neoselachians which this model might apply to.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-63
Number of pages12
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology
Early online date15 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Elasmobranch
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Image processing
  • Olfaction
  • Ray
  • Reynolds number
  • Three-dimensional printing
  • X-ray microcomputed tomography


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