Although members of the Rhopalonematidae family (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa, Trachymedusae) are known to exhibit unusually powerful jet swimming in addition to their more normal slow swimming behaviour, for the most part reports are rare and anecdotal. Many species are found globally at depths of 600 - 2000 m and so observation and collection depends on using remotely operated submersible vehicles. With a combination of in-situ video footage and laboratory measurements, we have quantified kinematic aspects of this dual swimming motion and its electrophysiology. The species included are from two Rhopalonematidae clades; they are Colobonema sericeum, Pantachogon haeckeli, Crossota millsae and two species of Benthocodon. Comparison is made with Aglantha digitale, a species from a third Rhopalonematidae clade brought to the surface by natural water movement. We find that although all Rhopalonematidae appear to have two swimming modes there are marked differences in their neural anatomy, kinematics and physiology. Giant motor axons, known to conduct impulses during fast swimming in A. digitale, are absent from C. sericeum and P. haeckeli. Slow swimming is also different; in C. sericeum and its relatives it is driven by contractions restricted to the base of the bell. These behavioural differences are related to the position of the different clades on a ribosomal DNA-based phylogenetic tree. This finding allows us to pinpoint the phylogenetic branch point leading to the appearance of giant motor axons and escape swimming. They place the remarkable dual swimming behaviour of members of the Rhopalonematidae family into an evolutionary context.

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