Archer fish fast hunting maneuver may be guided by directionally selective retinal ganglion cells.
Archer fish can shoot down insect prey with a sharp jet of water. Fish usually fire from positions that are not directly below their target so that a dislodged insect falls ballistically with a horizontal velocity component. Only 100 ms after the insect is on its path both the shooter and other school members can initiate a rapid turn and then head straight in the direction of the later point of impact of their falling prey. The quick turn and subsequent take-off are performed ;open-loop', based on the initial values of the falling insect's motion. We report here that archer fish can not only take off in the direction of the later point of impact but also predict its distance. Distance information allows the fish to adjust their take-off speed so that they would arrive within a narrow time slot slightly (about 50 ms) after their prey's impact, despite large differences in the size of the aligning turn and in the distance to be covered. Selecting a constant speed program with matched speed and catching the insect on the move minimizes frictional losses. The initial speed of starting fish is slightly but systematically too slow and is increased later so that the fish arrive 20 ms earlier than expected and often make the catch on a higher than take-off speed. The variability of later speed changes suggests a systematic ;error' in the take-off, as if the fish underestimated distance. However, this apparent deficiency seems well adapted to the fish catching their prey at a high speed: if later the fish had no possibility to correct an initial error then it is better to start slightly too slow in order to minimize the risk of overshooting the point of catch.