Marine Biology

, Volume 120, Issue 1, pp 161-169

Feeding and associated electrical behavior of the Pacific electric ray Torpedo californica in the field

  • C. G. LoweAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, California State University
  • , R. N. BrayAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, California State University
  • , D. R. NelsonAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, California State University

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The predatory behavior of 74 Pacific electric rays (Torpedo californica), studied between August and December during 1988 through 1991 in situ off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, southern California, consisted of two feeding modes: an ambush from the substratum during the day and a more vigorous attack from the water column at night. Predatory motor patterns and electric organ discharges (EODs) were recorded on the video and audio channels of a housed camcorder. Predatory motor patterns included four phases: (1) jump (simultaneous with EOD initiation), (2) pectoral-fin cupping, (3) orientation to prey, and (4) ingestion. The initial electrical activity of the rays was a train of 46 to 414 5-ms monophasic EODs that lasted 0.45 to 7.06 s; the maximum number of EODs produced during an attack was >1200. Maximum output, measured on only one ray, was 45 V. Fifty-five rays were presented one of four types of prey stimuli: live fish (LF), freshly-speared fish (FSF), frozen fish (FF), or a simulated bioelectric field (SBF). The percent frequency of attacks for the LF, FSF, and FF treatments ranged from 70 to >90%, but was <30% for the SBF. The interval between prey presentation and attack was ≃30 s for the LF, FSF, and FF and over five times longer for the SBF; intervals averaged <4 s for the three rays tested at night. Attacks by rays on energized electrodes provide the first evidence that electric rays use electroreceptors to detect their prey. However, the lack of clear differences among the four prey treatments in five characteristics of the initial pulse train suggests that a suite of sensory stimuli cooperate in triggering an attack and regulating the electrical output during the attack.