Mechanisms of benthic prey capture in wrasses (Labridae)

L. A. Ferry-Graham, P. C. Wainwright, M. W. Westneat, D. R. Bellwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Teleost fishes capture prey using ram, suction, and biting behaviors. The relative use of these behaviors in feeding on midwater prey is well studied, but few attempts have been made to determine how benthic prey are captured. This issue was addressed in the wrasses (Labridae), a trophically diverse lineage of marine reef fishes that feed extensively on prey that take refuge in the benthos. Most species possess strong jaws with stout conical teeth that appear well-suited to gripping prey. Mechanisms of prey capture were evaluated in five species encompassing a diversity of feeding ecologies: Choerodon anchorago (Bloch, 1791), Coris gaimard (Quoy and Gaimard, 1824), Hologymnosus doliatus (Lacepède, 1801), Novaculichthys taeniourus (Lacepède, 1801) and Oxycheilinus digrammus (Lacepède, 1801). Prey capture sequences were filmed with high-speed video at the Lizard Island Field Station (14°40′S, 145°28′E) during April and May 1998. Recordings were made of feeding on pieces of prawn suspended in the midwater and similar pieces of prawn held in a clip that was fixed to the substratum. Variation was quantified among species and between prey types for kinematic variables describing the magnitude and timing of jaw, hyoid, and head motion. Species differed in prey capture kinematics with mean values of most variables ranging between two and four-fold among species and angular velocity of the opening jaw differing seven-fold. The kinematics of attached prey feeding could be differentiated from that of midwater captures on the basis of faster angular velocities of the jaws and smaller movements of cranial structures which were of shorter duration. All five species used ram and suction in combination during the capture of midwater prey. Surprisingly, ram and suction also dominated feedings on attached prey, with only one species making greater use of biting than suction to remove attached prey. These data suggest an important role for suction in the capture of benthic prey by wrasses. Trade-offs in skull design associated with suction and biting may be particularly relevant to understanding the evolution of feeding mechanisms in this group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-830
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Mechanisms of benthic prey capture in wrasses (Labridae)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this