Filter-feeding dabbling ducks (Anas spp.) can actively select particles by size

Zoology (Jena). 2006;109(2):120-6. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2005.10.002. Epub 2006 Jan 6.


The relationship between bill morphology, function and prey use among filter-feeding dabbling ducks (Anas spp.) is poorly understood. In particular, it is not clear if interspecific differences in morphology affect the retention of prey to allow prey partitioning. The size of particles retained by ducks may be determined entirely by the distance between adjacent mandibular lamellae (interlamellar distance), possibly allowing interspecific partitioning of prey by size. Alternatively, articulation of the maxilla and mandible allows ducks to increase the distance between the maxillary and mandibular lamellae (lamellar separation) so that it exceeds their interlamellar distance, possibly allowing them to selectively expel unwanted particles larger than their interlamellar distance. In contrast, if interlamellar distance alone determines the size of particles ingested, particles larger than the interlamellar distance will always be retained because lamellar spacing is fixed. When large, preferred millet and wheat seeds were mixed with small, less preferred poppy seeds, all three ducks in this investigation ingested a greater proportion of the millet and wheat seeds than the poppy seeds, even though all three seed types were larger than the ducks' interlamellar distance. The proportion of millet and poppy seeds ingested when seeds were mixed differed from the proportion expected from foraging rates on unmixed prey, indicating the ducks actively avoided poppy seeds. These results are consistent with the lamellar separation hypothesis and clearly reject the singular role of interlamellar distance in prey retention. Because lamellar separation and water filtration rate are both determined by movement of the maxilla and mandible, there may be a trade-off between particle size selection and prey ingestion rate that allows interspecific partitioning of prey by size.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Ducks / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mandible / anatomy & histology
  • Mandible / physiology
  • Maxilla / anatomy & histology
  • Maxilla / physiology
  • Particle Size
  • Species Specificity