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The Journal of Experimental Biology


This study tests the hypothesis that preparatory, expansive, compressive and recovery phases of biting behavior known for aquatically feeding anamniotes are conserved among extant elasmobranch fishes. The feeding mechanism of the lemon shark Negaprion brevirostris is examined by anatomical dissection, electromyography and high-speed video analysis. Three types of feeding events are differentiated during feeding: (1) food ingestion primarily by ram feeding; (2) food manipulation; and (3) hydraulic transport of the food by suction. All feeding events are composed of the expansive, compressive and recovery phases common to aquatically feeding teleost fishes, salamanders and turtles. A preparatory phase is occasionally observed during ingestion bites, and there is no fast opening phase characteristic of some aquatically feeding vertebrates. During the compressive phase, palatoquadrate protrusion accounts for 26 % of the gape distance during jaw closure and is concurrent with muscle activity in the dorsal and ventral preorbitalis and the levator palatoquadrati. Hydraulic transport events are shorter in duration than ram ingestion bites. Prey ingestion, manipulation and hydraulic transport events are all found to have a common series of kinematic and motor components. Individual sharks are capable of varying the duration and to a lesser extent the onset of muscle activity and, consequently, can vary their biting behavior. We propose a model for the feeding mechanism in carcharhinid sharks, including upper jaw protrusion. This study represents the first electromyographic and kinematic analysis of the feeding mechanism and behavior of an elasmobranch.

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