Nematodes such as Caenorhabditis elegans are heavier than water. When submerged in water, they settle to the bottom surface. Observations reveal that the animals do not lie flat on the bottom surface, but remain substantially suspended above the surface through continuous collisions with the surface, while maintaining their swimming gaits. Consequently, the swimming animals follow the bottom surface topography. When the bottom surface is inclined, the animals swim up or down along the incline. As the magnitude of the gravitational force can be easily estimated, this behaviour provides a convenient means to estimate the animal's propulsive thrust. The animals' tendency to follow the surface topography provides a means to control the swimmers' trajectories and direction of motion, which we demonstrate with a saw tooth-like ratchet that biases the animals to swim in a selected direction. The animals can also serve as surface topography probes since their residence time as a function of position provides information on surface features. Finally, we take advantage of surface following to construct a simple motility-based sorter that can sort animals based on genotype and state of health.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3578780.
- Received August 3, 2016.
- Accepted November 10, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.