Ingestion in Fish


Fishes are the largest group of vertebrates on Earth and this diversity of species number is reflected in the wide range of ways that fishes acquire food and the types of food that are ingested. Major topics in fish feeding include the range of dietary habits of fishes, the diverse strategies of capturing or ingesting food, the functional morphology of the jaws of fishes, ecological patterns of prey acquisition, and evolutionary trends in fish feeding biology.

Keywords: feeding; diet; suction; biting; prey capture; shark; fishes

Figure 1.

(a) Suction feeding mechanism in the sturgeon is a highly protrusible mouth that extends downward to vacuum up sediments containing clams and other prey. (b–e) Suction feeding in a piscivorous wrasse feeding on a small fish (grid, 1 cm). This behaviour is characterized by rapid jaw opening (b–d = 25 ms), suction (d) and jaw protrusion during mouth closing (e).

Figure 2.

Jaws of fishes specialized for feeding by biting. (a) The jaw of a lemon shark with numerous rows of replaceable teeth. (b) The skull of a large parrotfish with beak‐like jaws that are used for scraping algae from surfaces of coral reefs. (c) The extreme canine teeth of the vampire characin are used for impaling small fishes before swallowing. (d) The sturdy cutting jaws of the piranha enable this fish to bite off fins and remove pieces of meat from prey. All specimens are from the Field Museum of Natural History collections. Bar, 5 cm.

Figure 3.

The sling‐jaw wrasse Epibulus insidiator is the champion of jaw protrusion in fishes. Three frames from a high‐speed film (total duration 0.03 s) of the feeding strike show that Epibulus can protrude its jaws forward by 65% of its head length. Adapted from Westneat (1991). Grid, 1 cm.

Figure 4.

Phylogeny of major groups of fishes, with a historical perspective on the major evolutionary trends in the structure and function of feeding.


Further Reading

Alfaro ME and Westneat MW (1999) Biomechanics of parrotfish feeding: motor patterns of the herbivorous bite. Brain, Behavior and Evolution 54: 205–222.

Barel CDN (1983) Towards a constructional morphology of cichlid fishes (Teleostei, Perciformes). Netherlands Journal of Zoology 205: 269–295.

Lauder GV (1982) Patterns of evolution in the feeding mechanism of acanthopterygian fishes. American Zoologist 22: 275–285.

Lauder GV (1985) Aquatic feeding in lower vertebrates. In: Hildebrand M, Bramble DM, Liem KF and Wake DB (eds) Functional Vertebrate Morphology, pp. 210–229. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

Liem KF (1980) Adaptive significance of intra‐ and interspecific differences in the feeding repertoires of cichlid fishes. American Zoologist 20: 295–314.

Motta PJ, Tricas TC, Hueter RE and Summers AP (1991) Feeding mechanics and functional morphology of the jaws of the lemon shark Negaprion brevirostris. Journal of Experimental Biology 200: 2765–2780.

Wainwright PC (1988) Morphology and ecology: functional basis of feeding constraints in Caribbean labrid fishes. Ecology 69: 635–645.

Wainwright PC, Westneat MW and Bellwood DR (2000) Linking feeding behavior and jaw mechanics in fishes. In: Domeninici P and Blake RW (eds) Biomechanics in Animal Behavior, pp. 207–221. Oxford: BIOS Scientific.

Westneat WW (1991) Linkage mechanics and evolution of the unique feeding mechanism of Epibulus insidiator (Labridae: Teleostei). Journal of Experimental Biology 159: 165–184.

Westneat MW (1994) Transmission of force and velocity in the feeding mechanisms of labrid fishes. Zoomorphology 114: 103–118.

Wilga CD and Motta PJ (1998) Conservation and variation in the feeding mechanism of the spiny dogfish Squalus acanthias. Journal of Experimental Biology 201: 1345–1358.

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How to Cite close
Westneat, Mark W(Apr 2001) Ingestion in Fish. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001834]