Depression of the hyoid apparatus plays a crucial role in generating suction, especially in fishes with a dorso-ventrally flattened head shape. It is generally assumed that shortening of the sternohyoideus muscle, which connects the hyoid to the pectoral girdle, contributes to hyoid depression. However, a recent study on the clariid catfish Clarias gariepinus has shown that this muscle does not shorten but elongates during this phase through retraction of the pectoral girdle. Here, we test whether this pattern is general among clariid catfish, or if variation in the morphology of the sternohyoideus may result in a different sternohyoideus behavior during hyoid depression. First, sternohyoideus mass, effective cross-sectional area, fiber length and fiber diameter were measured and compared for four clariid species. Next, velocity and magnitude of hyoid depression during prey capture (from high-speed videos), as well as patterns of sternohyoideus strain were analyzed (from high-speed X-ray videos) in these species. While morphology and hyoid depression performance varied considerably among these species, only the species with the most massive sternohyoideus, Gymnallabes typus, showed shortening of the sternohyoideus muscle during the initial part of the expansive phase. The data for Channallabes apus demonstrate that increasing the magnitude of hyoid depression does not necessarily require a shortening of the m. sternohyoideus, as it shows elongation of this muscle during hyoid depression.
2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.