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J R Soc Interface. 2008 Dec 6;5(29):1445-57. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2008.0159.

Jaw protrusion enhances forces exerted on prey by suction feeding fishes.

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Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The ability to protrude the jaws during prey capture is a hallmark of teleost fishes, widely recognized as one of the most significant innovations in their diverse and mechanically complex skull. An elaborated jaw protrusion mechanism has independently evolved multiple times in bony fishes, and is a conspicuous feature in several of their most spectacular radiations, ultimately being found in about half of the approximately 30000 living species. Variation in jaw protrusion distance and speed is thought to have facilitated the remarkable trophic diversity found across fish groups, although the mechanical consequences of jaw protrusion for aquatic feeding performance remain unclear. Using a hydrodynamic approach, we show that rapid protrusion of the jaws towards the prey, coupled with the spatial pattern of the flow in front of the mouth, accelerates the water around the prey. Jaw protrusion provides an independent source of acceleration from that induced by the unsteady flow at the mouth aperture, increasing by up to 35% the total force exerted on attached, escaping and free-floating passive prey. Despite initiating the strike further away, fishes can increase peak force on their prey by protruding their jaws towards it, compared with a 'non-protruding' state, where the distance to prey remains constant throughout the strike. The force requirements for capturing aquatic prey might have served as a selective factor for the evolution of jaw protrusion in modern fishes.

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