Scaling of suction feeding performance in the catfish Clarias gariepinus

Physiol Biochem Zool. Jan-Feb 2006;79(1):43-56. doi: 10.1086/498188. Epub 2005 Nov 11.


Ontogenetic changes in the absolute dimensions of the cranial system together with changes in kinematics during prey capture can cause differences in the spatiotemporal patterns of water flow generated during suction feeding. Because the velocity of this water flow determines the force that pulls prey toward and into the mouth cavity, this can affect suction feeding performance. In this study, size-related changes in the suction-induced flow patterns are determined. To do so, a mathematical suction model is applied to video recordings of prey capturing Clarias gariepinus ranging in total length from 111 to 923 mm. Although large C. gariepinus could be expected to have increasing peak velocities of water flow compared with small individuals, the results from the hydrodynamic model show that this is not the case. Yet, when C. gariepinus becomes larger, the expansive phase is prolonged, resulting in a longer sustained flow. This flow also reaches farther in front of the mouth almost proportionally with head size. Forward dynamical simulations with spherical prey that are subjected to the calculated water flows indicate that the absolute distance from which a given prey can be sucked into the mouth as well as the maximal prey diameter increase substantially with increasing head size. Consequently, the range of potential prey that can be captured through suction feeding will become broader during growth of C. gariepinus. This appears to be reflected in the natural diet of this species, where both the size and the number of evasive prey increase with increasing predator size.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Size*
  • Catfishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Catfishes / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology