Researchers study Zebra fishes’ reactions to different size shoals using robotically manipulated 3D printed Zebra shoals. via iopscience
Recent progress in three-dimensional (3D) printing technology has enabled rapid prototyping of complex models at a limited cost. Virtually every research laboratory has access to a 3D printer, which can assist in the design and implementation of hypothesis-driven studies on animal behavior. In this study, we explore the possibility of using 3D printing technology to understand the role of body size in the social behavior of the zebrafish model organism. In a dichotomous preference test, we study the behavioral response of zebrafish to shoals of 3D printed replicas of varying size. We systematically vary the size of each replica without altering the coloration, aspect ratio, and stripe patterns, which are all selected to closely mimic zebrafish morphophysiology. The replicas are actuated through a robotic manipulator, mimicking the natural motion of live subjects. Zebrafish preference is assessed by scoring the time spent in the vicinity of the shoal of replicas, and the information theoretic construct of transfer entropy is used to further elucidate the influence of the replicas on zebrafish motion. Our results demonstrate that zebrafish adjust their behavior in response to variations in the size of the replicas. Subjects exhibit an avoidance reaction for larger replicas, and they are attracted toward and influenced by smaller replicas. The approach presented in this study, integrating 3D printing technology, robotics, and information theory, is expected to significantly aid preclinical research on zebrafish behavior.