Rhythmic chewing with oral jaws in teleost fishes: a comparison with amniotes

J Exp Biol. 2010 Jun 1;213(11):1868-75. doi: 10.1242/jeb.041012.


Intra-oral prey processing (chewing) using the mandibular jaws occurs more extensively among teleost fishes than previously documented. The lack of muscle spindles, gamma-motoneurons and periodontal afferents in fishes makes them useful for testing hypotheses regarding the relationship between these sensorimotor components and rhythmic chewing in vertebrates. Electromyography (EMG) data from the adductor mandibulae (AM) were used to quantify variation in chew cycle duration in the bowfin Amia, three osteoglossomorphs (bony-tongues), four salmonids and one esocid (pike). All species chewed prey using their oral jaw in repetitive trains of between 3 and 30 consecutive chews, a pattern that resembles cyclic chewing in amniote vertebrates. Variance in rhythmicity was compared within and between lineages using coefficients of variation and Levene's test for homogeneity of variance. These comparisons revealed that some teleosts exhibit degrees of rhythmicity that are comparable to mammalian mastication and higher than in lepidosaurs. Moreover, chew cycle durations in fishes, as in mammals, scale positively with mandible length. Chewing among basal teleosts may be rhythmic because it is stereotyped and inflexible, the result of patterned interactions between sensory feedback and a central pattern generator, because the lack of a fleshy tongue renders jaw-tongue coordination unnecessary and/or because stereotyped opening and closing movements are important for controlling fluid flow in the oral cavity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Jaw / physiology
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Periodicity