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J Exp Biol. 2018 Jun 5;221(Pt 11). pii: jeb178160. doi: 10.1242/jeb.178160.

Bluegill sunfish use high power outputs from axial muscles to generate powerful suction-feeding strikes.

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Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


Suction-feeding fish rapidly expand the mouth cavity to generate high-velocity fluid flows that accelerate food into the mouth. Such fast and forceful suction expansion poses a challenge, as muscle power is limited by muscle mass and the muscles in fish heads are relatively small. The largemouth bass powers expansion with its large body muscles, with negligible power produced by the head muscles (including the sternohyoideus). However, bluegill sunfish - with powerful strikes but different morphology and feeding behavior - may use a different balance of cranial and axial musculature to power feeding and different power outputs from these muscles. We estimated the power required for suction expansion in sunfish from measurements of intraoral pressure and rate of volume change, and measured muscle length and velocity. Unlike largemouth bass, the sternohyoideus did shorten to generate power, but it and other head muscles were too small to contribute more than 5-10% of peak expansion power in sunfish. We found no evidence of catapult-style power amplification. Instead, sunfish powered suction feeding by generating high power outputs (up to 438 W kg-1) from their axial muscles. These muscles shortened across the cranial half of the body as in bass, but at faster speeds that may be nearer the optimum for power production. Sunfish were able to generate strikes of the same absolute power as bass, but with 30-40% of the axial muscle mass. Thus, species may use the body and head muscles differently to meet the requirements of suction feeding, depending on their morphology and behavior.


Fluoromicrometry; Muscle power; Muscle work; Shortening velocity; XROMM

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Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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