Functional morphology of extreme jaw protrusion in Neotropical cichlids

J Morphol. 2003 Jul;257(1):96-106. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10111.


The New World cichlids Petenia splendida and Caquetaia spp. possess extraordinarily protrusible jaws. We investigated the feeding behavior of extreme (here defined as greater than 30% head length) and modest jaw-protruding Neotropical cichlids by comparing feeding kinematics, cranial morphology, and feeding performance. Digital high-speed video (500 fps) of P. splendida, C. spectabile, and Astronotus ocellatus feeding on live guppy prey was analyzed to generate kinematic and performance variables. All three cichlid taxa utilized cranial elevation, lower jaw depression, and rotation of the suspensorium to protrude the jaws during feeding experiments. Extreme anterior jaw protrusion in P. splendida and C. spectabile resulted from augmented lower jaw depression and anterior rotation of the suspensorium. Morphological comparisons among eight cichlid species revealed novel anterior and posterior points of flexion within the suspensorium of P. splendida and Caquetaia spp. The combination of anterior and posterior loosening within the suspensorium in P. splendida and Caquetaia spp. permitted considerable anterior rotation of the suspensorium and contributed to protrusion of the jaws. Petenia splendida and C. spectabile exhibited greater ram distance and higher ram velocities than did A. ocellatus, resulting primarily from increased jaw protrusion. Petenia splendida and C. spectabile exhibited lower suction feeding performance than A. ocellatus, as indicated by lower suction-induced prey movements and velocities. Thus, extreme jaw protrusion in these cichlids may represent an adaptation for capturing elusive prey by enhancing the ram velocity of the predator but does not enhance suction feeding performance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cichlids / anatomy & histology*
  • Cichlids / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Hyoid Bone / anatomy & histology
  • Hyoid Bone / physiology
  • Jaw / anatomy & histology*
  • Jaw / physiology*
  • Video Recording