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J Morphol. 1999 Jul;241(1):33-60.

Anatomy of the feeding apparatus of the nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum.

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Department of Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.


The anatomy of the feeding apparatus of the nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, was investigated by gross dissection and computer axial tomography. The labial cartilages, jaws, jaw suspension, muscles, and ligaments of the head are described. Palatoquadrate cartilages articulate with the chondrocranium caudally by short, laterally projecting hyomandibulae and rostrally by ethmoorbital articulations. Short orbital processes of the palatoquadrates are joined to the ethmoid region of the chondrocranium by short, thin ethmopalatine ligaments. In addition, various ligaments, muscles, and the integument contribute to the suspension of the jaws. When the mouth is closed and the palatoquadrate retracted, the palatine process of the palatoquadrate is braced against the ventral surface of the nasal capsule and the ascending process of the palatoquadrate is in contact with the rostrodorsal end of the suborbital shelf. When the mandible is depressed and the palatoquadrate protrudes slightly rostroventrally, the palatoquadrate moves away from the chondrocranium. A dual articulation of the quadratomandibular joint restricts lateral movement between the mandible and the palatoquadrate. The vertically oriented preorbitalis muscle spans the gape and is hypothesized to contribute to the generation of powerful crushing forces for its hard prey. The attachment of the preorbitalis to the prominent labial cartilages is also hypothesized to assist in the retraction of the labial cartilages during jaw closure. Separate levator palatoquadrati and spiracularis muscles, which are longitudinally oriented and attach the chondrocranium to the palatoquadrate, are hypothesized to assist in the retraction of the palatoquadrate during the recovery phase of feeding kinematics. Morphological specializations for suction feeding that contribute to large subambient suction pressures include hypertrophied coracohyoideus and coracobranchiales muscles to depress the hyoid and branchial arches, a small oral aperture with well-developed labial cartilages that occlude the gape laterally, and small teeth.

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