The C-start in teleost fishes, a type of startle response, mediates the ability to respond to abrupt, unexpected stimuli and is characterized by a short-latency, C-type fast start acceleration. In prehatch fish embryos, the C-start appears necessary for mechanical breakdown of the egg chorion and successful hatching by way of increased embryo movement and distribution of the hatching enzymes. In later stages, the C-start plays an important role in predator avoidance. Using tactile stimulation, we evaluated the C-start response in rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss at 170 degree-days, when 6.6% of embryos exhibited C-starts, and lake trout Salvelinus namaycush embryos at 320 degree-days, when 23% of embryos exhibited C-starts. Triplicate groups of embryos were later tested at three developmental stages: early (220 and 360 degree-days for rainbow trout and lake trout, respectively), middle (260 and 480 degree-days, respectively), and late (320 and 560 degree-days, respectively). The proportion of trout embryos exhibiting C-start increased through time, such that 100% had responded by the late stage, just prior to hatching. C-starts could be obtained by repeated stimulation, and the relative activity of the embryos (based on the number of flexures per stimulus) also increased over time. Rainbow trout and lake trout showed very similar C-start responses at parallel developmental stages, and these patterns of response were similar to those reported in other fish species.
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Comparison of prehatch C-start responses in rainbow trout and lake trout embryos by means of a tactile stimulus test