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'Alien' jaws help moray eels feed
Date:9/5/2007

ainwright, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and co-author with Mehta on the paper. Only the moray eel seems to have a second, mobile set of jaws that can reach forward and grab prey.

At rest, the pharyngeal jaws sit behind the eel's skull. When they reach forward, they move almost the length of the animal's skull, but do not protrude beyond the powerful outer jaws. The arrangement means that if the eel can sink in a few teeth to hold its prey, it can secure its meal with the pharyngeal jaws, the researchers note.

Mehta compared the eels to snakes, which also have to fit large food items through a relatively narrow mouth into a long, thin body. Snakes solve the problem by "ratcheting:" they can separate the left and right sides of their jaw, and hold onto the food with one side while they work the other side of the mouth round it.

Mehta and Wainwright are now investigating how the morays' extraordinary jaws evolved. Other species of eel, such as the American eel Anguilla, feed by suction. Moray eels may have evolved other methods as a result of hunting in confined spaces, where they could not rapidly expand their heads to create suction.

"Eels are an amazingly diverse and bizarre group of fishes, and not very well known," Wainwright said.


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Contact: Andy Fell
ahfell@ucdavis.edu
530-752-4533
University of California - Davis
Source:Eurekalert

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