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J Exp Biol. 2009 Oct 1;212(19):3037-43. doi: 10.1242/jeb.028712.

Functional consequences of structural differences in stingray sensory systems. Part I: mechanosensory lateral line canals.

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  • 1Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California at Los Angeles, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Short range hydrodynamic and electrosensory signals are important during final stages of prey capture in elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays), and may be particularly useful for dorso-ventrally flattened batoids with mouths hidden from their eyes. In stingrays, both the lateral line canal and electrosensory systems are highly modified and complex with significant differences on ventral surfaces that relate to feeding ecology. This study tests functional hypotheses based on quantified differences in sensory system morphology of three stingray species, Urobatis halleri, Myliobatis californica and Pteroplatytrygon violacea. Part I investigates the mechanosensory lateral line canal system whereas part II focuses on the electrosensory system. Stingray lateral line canals include both pored and non-pored sections and differ in branching complexity and distribution. A greater proportion of pored canals and high pore numbers were predicted to correspond to increased response to water flow. Behavioral experiments were performed to compare responses of stingrays to weak water jets mimicking signals produced by potential prey at velocities of 10-20 cm s(-1). Bat rays, M. californica, have the most complex and broadly distributed pored canal network and demonstrated both the highest response rate and greater response intensity to water jet signals. Results suggest that U. halleri and P. violacea may rely on additional sensory input, including tactile and visual cues, respectively, to initiate stronger feeding responses. These results suggest that stingray lateral line canal morphology can indicate detection capabilities through responsiveness to weak water jets.

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