The lateral line is a sense organ in aquatic organisms (mainly fish), used to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water. Lateral lines are usually visible as faint lines running lengthwise down each side, from the vicinity of the gill covers to the base of the tail. Sometimes parts of the lateral organ are modified into electroreceptors, which are organs used to detect electrical impulses. It is possible that vertebrates such as sharks use the lateral organs to detect magnetic fields.


The receptors in the lateral line are neuromasts, each of which is composed of a group of hair cells. The hairs are surrounded by a protruding jelly-like cupula, typically 1/10 to 1/5 mm long. The hair cells and cupolas of the neuromasts are usually at the bottom of a visible pit or groove in the fish. The hair cells in the lateral line are similar to the hair cells inside the vertebrate inner ear, suggesting that the lateral line and the inner ear share a common origin.

Teleosts and elasmobranchs usually have lateral-line canals, in which the neuromasts are not directly exposed to the environment, but communicate with it via canal pores. Additional neuromasts may appear individually at various locations on the body surface.


The development of the lateral-line system depends on the organisms's mode of life. For instance, fish that are active swimming types tend to have more neuromasts in canals than they have on their surface, and the line will be farther away from the pectoral fins, which probably reduces the amount of "noise" that is generated by fin motion.

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