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For moray eels, two jaws better than one

mikesd81 (518581) writes | more than 6 years ago

Sci-Fi 0

mikesd81 writes "Mercury News reports that scientists at UC Davis have discovered that some eels have an extra set of jaws deep in their throats that launch forward into their mouths to help pull prey in. "It looks like a funny pair of forceps with curved sharp teeth," said evolutionary biologist Rita Mehta, lead author of the research, which appears Thursday in Nature. Before the discovery, scientists thought that all aquatic predators swallowed their prey using suction. By dropping the lower jaw and creating a flow of water into their mouths, they draw in the prey. The two species of moray eels studied by Mehta and Wainwright are the first examples of an alternative feeding method. Instead of sucking, one of these eels bites its prey with its primary set of teeth. It then draws the second set of teeth into its mouth by contracting long muscles. The secondary jaws clamp down on the prey, allowing the eel to move its primary jaws forward in a gulping motion to take in more of the prey. The two sets of jaws take turns until the whole animal has been swallowed. Mehta thinks the eels' extra jaws may have evolved to help the eels catch animals in small cracks and crevices in the coral they inhabit. While suction requires expansion of the mouth, the eel's double-jaw trick allows it to remain long and skinny, and may have helped them earn their place as top predator on the coral reef. Here is a video of an eel eating. If you look closely right around 34 seconds you can see what looks like the other set of jaws chewing."
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