Suction, Ram, and Biting: Deviations and Limitations to the Capture of Aquatic Prey

Lara A. Ferry, E. Misty Paig-Tran, Alice C. Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


When feeding, most aquatic organisms generate suction that draws prey into the mouth. The papers in this volume are a demonstration of this fact. However, under what circumstances is suction ineffective as a feeding mechanism? Here we consider the interplay between suction, ram, and biting, and analyze the contribution of each to the capture of prey by a wide variety of species of fish. We find, not surprisingly, that ram is the dominant contributor to feeding because suction, and biting, are only effective when very close to the prey. As species utilize more strongly ram-dominated modes of feeding, they may be released from the morphological and behavioral constraints associated with the need to direct a current of water into the head. Morphological and behavioral changes that facilitate larger gapes and stronger jaws are explored here, including predators that lack a protrusile upper jaw, predators with elongate jaws, predators that rely on suspension feeding, and predators that bite. Interestingly, while the mobility of the jaws and the shape of the opening of the mouth are modified in species that have departed from a primary reliance on suction feeding, the anterior-to-posterior wave of expansion persists. This wave may be greatly slowed in ram and biting species, but its retention suggests a fundamental importance to aquatic feeding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-109
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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