Friday, September 7, 2007

Two Mouths To Feed And Only One Way To Breathe - Gills

A very common type of moray eel in the Philippines, this variety of moray is usually small in size compared to many others. This specimen is typical-- about 2 feet long. Image Credit: Divegallery

Two Mouths To Feed And Only One Way To Breathe - Gills

Ever wonder how Hollywood comes up with the ideas they come up with to scare us and creep us out? Well, how about right here in the oceans on the Oblate Spheroid.

It has been recently discovered that the Moray Eel uses an eating method that employs two sets of clamping jaw mechanisms – like right out of Hollywood and the movie “Aliens”

This from San Jose Mercury News -

The creepy truth about moray eels
By Betsy Mason - STAFF WRITER - Article Launched: 09/05/2007 09:51:00 AM PDT

It's like a scene from an Aliens movie: a scaly underwater creature looking something like a piranha crossed with a python strikes at its prey which is then reeled deeper into the beast's throat by a second set of toothy jaws.

But this sinister animal isn't a figment of a Hollywood director's imagination, suddenly bursting out of a character's stomach, terrifying audiences. It's a real-life product of evolution.

As if eels weren't already creepy enough, scientists at UC Davis have discovered that some eels have an extra set of jaws deep in their throats that launch forward into their mouths to help pull prey in.

"It looks like a funny pair of forceps with curved sharp teeth," said evolutionary biologist Rita Mehta, lead author of the research, which appears Thursday in Nature.

Mehta and functional morphologist Peter Wainwright captured the odd feeding behavior using high-speed video recordings of eels in lab tanks. Slowed down, the video reveals the jaws coming forward into the mouth and taking hold of a piece of food.

"It was one of those gee-whiz moments when we were absolutely ecstatic," Mehta said. "It was just astounding."

Before the discovery, scientists thought that all aquatic predators swallowed their prey using suction. By dropping the lower jaw and creating a flow of water into their mouths, they draw in the prey. The two species of moray eels studied by Mehta and Wainwright are the first examples of an alternative feeding method.

Other bony fish also catch their prey with their teeth, but they still use suction to swallow it.

Snakes accomplish the same thing by alternately ratcheting the left and right sides of their jaws along their quarry.

Mehta thinks the eels' extra jaws may have evolved to help the eels catch animals in small cracks and crevices in the coral they inhabit. While suction requires expansion of the mouth, the eel's double-jaw trick allows it to remain long and skinny, and may have helped them earn their place as top predator on the coral reef.

The discovery shows that suction feeding in not the final word on fish feeding behavior.

"There are probably more alternatives to suction feeding," Mehta said. "This is probably the tip of the iceberg.

"We're just starting to look."
Reference Here>>

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