The mechanism of suckling in two species of infant mammal: miniature pigs and long-tailed macaques

J Exp Zool. 1992 Mar 1;261(3):322-30. doi: 10.1002/jez.1402610311.


Suckling is the form of feeding unique to infant mammals. The mechanism used by infant mammals to withdraw liquid from the nipple is the subject of considerable debate. Suckling has been examined in two species of infant mammals: miniature pigs and long-tailed macaques. In both species radio-opaque markers were inserted into the tongue and jaws; the movements of the jaw and tongue (and also of specific regions within the tongue) plus the movement of milk containing barium were studied by high-speed cineradiography (100 and 150 frames/sec). In the case of macaques, simultaneous pressure transducer recordings were also made. In both species, liquid moved out of the nipple as the intraoral space was expanded by a combination of tongue movement (negative pressure pumping) coupled with jaw opening. There was no evidence for expression (positive pressure on the nipple) in either species, strongly supporting the view that a suction mechanism is responsible for acquisition of milk from the nipple. Subsequent intraoral transport was different in the two species. The pigs used a second pump mechanism at the base of the tongue to transport liquid through the pillars of the fauces into the valleculae. The monkeys used a "squeeze-back" mechanism similar to the transport mechanism documented for adult macaques. Further work with other species can test our tentative hypothesis that all mammals use a negative pressure suction for acquisition, but, as is true for adult mammals, infants may use different transport mechanisms to form and move the bolus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Radiography / methods
  • Species Specificity
  • Sucking Behavior / physiology*
  • Swine
  • Swine, Miniature
  • Video Recording / methods