Do Changes in Morphology and Prey-Capture Movements Facilitate a Dietary Transition in Juvenile Colorado pikeminnow, Ptychocheilus lucius?

Morgan F. Burnette, Alice C. Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Ontogenetic diet shifts in juvenile fishes are sometimes associated with proportional changes to the feeding mechanism. In addition, many piscivorous teleosts transition from invertebrate-prey to fish-prey when the mouth attains a specific diameter. Allometric (disproportionate) growth of the jaws could accelerate a young fish's ability to reach a critical gape diameter; alternately by opening the lower jaw to a greater degree, a fish might increase gape behaviorally. We investigated the ontogeny of feeding morphology and kinematics in an imperiled piscivore, the Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius) in a size range of individuals across which a diet shift from invertebrate-prey to prey-fishes is known to occur. We predicted that: (1) the feeding apparatus of the fish would grow proportionally with the rest of the body (isometric growth), that (2) anatomical gape diameter at the known diet transition would be a similar gape diameter to that observed for other piscivorous juvenile fishes (15-20 mm) and (3) feeding kinematic variables would scale isometrically (that is, change in direct proportion to body length) as juvenile pikeminnow became larger. Furthermore, we also asked the question: if changes in feeding morphology and kinematics are present, do the changes in morphology appear to generate the observed changes in kinematics? For juvenile Colorado pikeminnow, the majority of the morphological variables associated with the skull and jaws scale isometrically (that is, proportionally), but seven of eight kinematic variables, including functional gape, scale with negative allometry (that is, they became disproportionately smaller in magnitude). In contrast with the overall trend of isometry, two key aspects of feeding morphology do change with size; the lower jaw of a young Colorado pikeminnow becomes longer (positive allometry), while the head becomes shallower (negative allometry). These findings do not support the hypothesis that morphological ontogenetic changes directly generate changes in feeding kinematics; in fact, allometric jaw growth would, a priori, be expected to generate a larger gape in older fish-which is the opposite of what was observed. We conclude that ontogenetic morphological changes produce a more streamlined cranium that may reduce drag during a rapid, anteriorly directed strike, while concomitant behavioral changes reduce the magnitude of jaw movements-behavioral changes that will facilitate a very rapid opening and closing of the jaws during the gape cycle. Thus, for juvenile pikeminnow, speed and stealth appear to be more important than mouth gape during prey capture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-275
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Cyprinidae
  • Feeding
  • Juvenile
  • Kinematics
  • Piscivore

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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