Three lineages of cartilaginous fishes have independently evolved filter feeding (Lamniformes: Megachasma and Cetorhinus, Orectolobiformes: Rhincodon, and Mobulidae: Manta and Mobula); and the structure of the branchial filters is different in each group. The filter in Rhincodon typus has been described; species within the Lamniformes have simple filamentous filters, but the anatomy and ultrastructure of the branchial filter in the mobulid rays varies and is of functional interest. In most fishes, branchial gill rakers are elongated structures located along the anterior ceratobranchial and/or epibranchial arches; however, mobulid gill rakers are highly modified, flattened, lobe-like structures located on the anterior and posterior epibranchial elements as well as the ceratobranchials. The ultrastructure of the filter lobes can be smooth or covered by a layer of microcilia, and some are denticulated along the dorsal and ventral lobe surface. Flow through the mobulid oropharyngeal cavity differs from other filter-feeding fishes in that water must rapidly deviate from the free stream direction. There is an abrupt 90° turn from the initial inflowing path to move through the laterally directed branchial filter pores, over the gill tissue, and out the ventrally located gill slits. The deviation in the flow must result in tangential shearing stress across the filter surface. This implies that mobulids can use cross-flow filtration in which this shearing force serves as a mechanism to resuspend food particles initially caught by sieving or another capture mode. These particles will be transported by the cross filter flow toward the esophagus. We propose that species with cilia on the rakers augment the shear mediated movement of particles along the filter with ciliary transport.
Keywords: devil rays; filter anatomy; modified branchial arch.
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