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Foraging behaviour and functional morphology of two scale-eating cichlids from Lake Tanganyika

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The foraging behaviours of two Tanganyikan scale-eating cichlids, Perissodus straeleni and Perissodus microlepis, were observed in laboratory. Video analyses of their feeding behaviours showed the distinct differences in scale-eating action between the two species. Perissodus straeleni presses and shifts its mouth laterally along the body of the prey as the prey attempts to break free. In contrast, P. microlepis quickly rotates its body, with both jaws pressed tightly against the flank of the prey. Scanning electron microscopy of tooth shapes confirmed that dental morphology clearly differs between the two species: the teeth of P. straeleni are laminar and leaf-shaped with sharp edges along the lateral sides, whereas P. microlepis has thick, broad-based teeth with spine-like points in the upper corners. In addition, inspection of tooth condition in wild-caught fishes showed that the ratio of wearing teeth was significantly higher in P. straeleni than in P. microlepis. These results indicate that the functional morphology of the teeth plays an important role in their scale-eating actions; in P. straeleni, the sharp edges of the teeth appear to function as blades for scraping while shifting the mouth laterally along the body of the prey, whereas the spine-like projections on the teeth of P. microlepis appear to effectively catch scales while pressing and rotating the mouth, simultaneously wrenching off scales. These results clearly demonstrate that the different scale-eating behaviours of the two species are closely associated with the functional diversification of their jaw teeth.
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Keywords: Cichlidae; mutual exploitation; scale eater; specialization; tooth morphology

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, Nara Woman University, Nara, Japan 2: Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Kitashirakawa-Oiwake, Sakyo, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan

Publication date: 2007-05-01

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