Hydrodynamics of Sniffing by Crustaceans

  • Mimi A. R. Koehl


Chemical signals are dispersed in aquatic environments by turbulent water currents. The first step in smelling these signals is the capture of odor molecules from the water around an organism. Olfactory antennules of crustaceans are used to study the physical process of odor capture because they are external organs protruding into the water where researchers can measure how they interact with their fluid environment. The antennules of lobsters, crabs, and stomatopods, which bear chemosensory hairs (“aesthetascs”), flick through the water. For any array of small hairs, there is a critical velocity range above which the array is “leaky” and fluid can flow between the hairs, and below which fluid barely moves through the spaces between the hairs. When antennules flick they move faster than the critical velocity and water flows into the spaces between aesthetascs. In contrast, during the return stroke the antennule moves more slowly than the critical velocity and the water sampled during the flick is trapped between the aesthetascs until the next flick. Odorant molecules in the water trapped between the aesthetascs during the return stroke and interflick pause diffuse to the surfaces of the aesthetascs, before the next flick traps a new parcel of water. Therefore, each antennule flick is a “sniff,” taking a discrete sample of the odor plume in space and time.


Particle Image Velocimetry Hermit Crab Odor Source Spiny Lobster Odor Concentration 
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My research reported here was supported by grants from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and from the Office of Naval Research (USA), a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Virginia G. and Robert E. Gill Chair (University of California, Berkeley). I thank the coauthors on my papers cited in this chapter for the discussions and collaborations that led to the ideas presented here.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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