A forceful upper jaw facilitates picking-based prey capture: Biomechanics of feeding in a butterflyfish, Chaetodon trichrous

Joshua M. Copus, Alice C. Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Biomechanical models of feeding mechanisms elucidate how animals capture food in the wild, which, in turn, expands our understanding of their fundamental trophic niche. However, little attention has been given to modeling the protrusible upper jaw apparatus that characterizes many teleost species. We expanded existing biomechanical models to include upper jaw forces using a generalist butterflyfish, Chaetodon trichrous (Chaetodontidae) that produces substantial upper jaw protrusion when feeding on midwater and benthic prey. Laboratory feeding trials for C. trichrous were recorded using high-speed digital imaging; from these sequences we quantified feeding performance parameters to use as inputs for the biomechanical model. According to the model outputs, the upper jaw makes a substantial contribution to the overall forces produced during mouth closing in C. trichrous. Thus, biomechanical models that only consider lower jaw closing forces will underestimate total bite force for this and likely other teleost species. We also quantified and subsequently modeled feeding events for C. trichrous consuming prey from the water column versus picking attached prey from the substrate to investigate whether there is a functional trade-off between prey capture modes. We found that individuals of C. trichrous alter their feeding behavior when consuming different prey types by changing the timing and magnitude of upper and lower jaw movements and that this behavioral modification will affect the forces produced by the jaws during prey capture by dynamically altering the lever mechanics of the jaws. In fact, the slower, lower magnitude movements produced during picking-based prey capture should produce a more forceful bite, which will facilitate feeding on benthic attached prey items, such as corals. Similarities between butterflyfishes and other teleost lineages that also employ picking-based prey capture suggest that a suite of key behavioral and morphological innovations enhances feeding success for benthic attached prey items.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-347
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Behavioral modulation
  • Feeding kinematics
  • Foraging behavior
  • Reef fish ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'A forceful upper jaw facilitates picking-based prey capture: Biomechanics of feeding in a butterflyfish, Chaetodon trichrous'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this