Prey capture in long-jawed butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): The functional basis of novel feeding habits

Lara A. Ferry-Graham, Peter C. Wainwright, David R. Bellwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Several species of butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) possess extremely elongate jaws, and feed mostly by probing the benthos and biting off pieces of attached invertebrates. In contrast, Forcipiger longirostris, the longest-jawed chaetodontid, exhibits a novel pattern of prey use, feeding almost exclusively on small caridean shrimp, a mobile and highly elusive prey type that lives within the structure of coral reefs. We explored the functional basis of this novel pattern of prey use by comparing prey capture kinematics in this and four other butterflyfish species, including two other species that possess elongate jaws. High speed video recordings of feeding events on live adult brine shrimp were analyzed from individuals of five species: Forcipiger longirostris, F. flavissimus, Chelmon rostratus, Heniochus acuminatus, and Chaetodon xanthurus. We focused on a comparison among species of the relative contribution of "suction", measured as the amount of movement of the prey toward the predator's mouth, and "ram", measured as the distance moved by the predator toward the prey during the strike. All five species utilized a combination of suction and ram while feeding on brine shrimp. The contribution of suction did not differ significantly among species. However, F. longirostris exhibited a ram contribution to the strike that was more than twice that seen in any of the other species, permitting this species to initiate strikes from the greatest initial predator-prey distance. F. longirostris is known to possess a major structural novelty in the feeding mechanism that permits anterior movement of the entire jaw apparatus. The ability of this species to feed successfully on elusive prey appears to be related to exceptional jaw protrusion, resulting in greater use of ram during prey capture. This ability to protrude long, slender jaws toward the prey may allow it to move the jaws without detection within close enough proximity of the prey to then permit the effective use of suction. The use of extensive ram in this manner by small-mouthed fishes may be more widespread than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-184
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 31 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Functional morphology
  • Jaw protrusion
  • Prey capture
  • Ram feeding
  • Specialist
  • Suction feeding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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