Suction-feeding fishes capture food by fast and forceful expansion of the mouth cavity, and axial muscles probably provide substantial power for this feeding behavior. Dorsal expansion of the mouth cavity can only be powered by the epaxial muscles, but both the sternohyoid, shortening against an immobile pectoral girdle to retract the hyoid, and the hypaxial muscles, shortening to retract both the pectoral girdle and hyoid, could contribute ventral expansion power. To determine whether hypaxial muscles generate power for ventral expansion, and the rostrocaudal extent of axial muscle shortening during suction feeding, we measured skeletal kinematics and muscle shortening in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). The three-dimensional motions of the cleithrum and hyoid were measured with X-ray reconstruction of moving morphology (XROMM), and muscle shortening was measured with fluoromicrometry, wherein changes in the distance between radio-opaque intramuscular markers are measured using biplanar X-ray video recording. We found that the hypaxials generated power for ventral suction expansion, shortening (mean of 6.2 mm) to rotate the pectoral girdle caudoventrally (mean of 9.3 deg) and retract the hyoid (mean of 8.5 mm). In contrast, the sternohyoid shortened minimally (mean of 0.48 mm), functioning like a ligament to transmit hypaxial shortening to the hyoid. Hypaxial and epaxial shortening were not confined to the rostral muscle regions, but extended more than halfway down the body during suction expansion. We conclude that hypaxial and epaxial muscles are both crucial for powering mouth expansion in largemouth bass, supporting the integration of axial and cranial musculoskeletal systems for suction feeding.
Keywords: Cleithrum; Hypaxial; Muscle strain; Prey capture; XROMM.