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Santa Cruz, CA

Functional morphologist and evolutionary biologist

Kinematics of prey capture during biting

  Larabicus quadrilineatus  feeding on an euthanized & suspended client fish. We used this technique to investigate how cleaning occurs.

Larabicus quadrilineatus feeding on an euthanized & suspended client fish. We used this technique to investigate how cleaning occurs.

Although divers had noted that cleaners continuously “pick” ectoparasites from the bodies of their clients, little was known about how cleaners actually capture prey.

Because cleaners often scurry around the body of their clientele, capturing clear, slow-motion footage of cleaning was tricky. I devised a way to train cleaners to feed in the lab, and used high-speed (1000 frames/sec) videography to observe how their jaws move.


 In most wrasses (including many cleaners), the premaxillae rapidly move anteroventrally to meet the lower jaws and deliver a protruded bite (upper series). In Labrichthyine wrasses (which includes obligate cleaners), the reduction of the maxillary crest results in faster bites with less jaw protrusion (lower series). These species have simplified the art of biting.

In most wrasses (including many cleaners), the premaxillae rapidly move anteroventrally to meet the lower jaws and deliver a protruded bite (upper series). In Labrichthyine wrasses (which includes obligate cleaners), the reduction of the maxillary crest results in faster bites with less jaw protrusion (lower series). These species have simplified the art of biting.

Patterns of prey capture across cleaners: similar kinematic trends despite morphological diversity

Across species, cleaning can be performed facultatively or obligately. We asked whether species in the Labridae that vary in ecological specialization employ similar mechanisms of prey capture. In investigating feeding on attached prey among juveniles of 19 species of wrasses, we found that patterns of biting in wrasses are influenced by the interaction between two jaw bones: the maxilla and a feature of the premaxilla which we termed the maxillary crest (Baliga et al. 2017).

Despite the morphological and kinematic peculiarities of the Labrichthyine clade, we found the evolution of cleaning to be associated with faster and lower-displacement biting.


Cranial morphology and prey capture kinematics: a focal study of three wrasse species

This was my foray into documenting the kinematic profiles of cleaners. Through high-speed videography of cleaner fishes feeding in two experimental treatments, we document prey capture kinematic profiles for Labroides dimidiatus, Larabicus quadrilineatus, and Thalassoma lutescens (Baliga and Mehta, 2015).


Cleaners showed extreme characteristics in jaw movement; unlike other wrasses, cleaners used rapid, low-mobility, cyclical biting behaviors to nibble on selectively-targeted items.

 

  Labroides dimidiatus

Labroides dimidiatus

  Larabicus quadrilineatus

Larabicus quadrilineatus

  Thalassoma lutescens

Thalassoma lutescens

  Labroides dimidiatus ,   cleared & stained

Labroides dimidiatus, cleared & stained

  Larabicus quadrilineatus ,   cleared & stained

Larabicus quadrilineatus, cleared & stained

  Thalassoma lutescens , cleared & stained

Thalassoma lutescens, cleared & stained