Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 131–156

Advances in the Study of Feeding Behaviors, Mechanisms, and Mechanics of Sharks

  • Philip J. Motta
  • Cheryl D. Wilga

DOI: 10.1023/A:1007649900712

Cite this article as:
Motta, P.J. & Wilga, C.D. Environmental Biology of Fishes (2001) 60: 131. doi:10.1023/A:1007649900712


Sharks as a group have a long history as highly successful predatory fishes. Although, the number of recent studies on their diet, feeding behavior, feeding mechanism, and mechanics have increased, many areas still require additional investigation. Dietary studies of sharks are generally more abundant than those on feeding activity patterns, and most of the studies are confined to relatively few species, many being carcharhiniform sharks. These studies reveal that sharks are generally asynchronous opportunistic feeders on the most abundant prey item, which are primarily other fishes. Studies of natural feeding behavior are few and many observations of feeding behavior are based on anecdotal reports. To capture their prey sharks either ram, suction, bite, filter, or use a combination of these behaviors. Foraging may be solitary or aggregate, and while cooperative foraging has been hypothesized it has not been conclusively demonstrated. Studies on the anatomy of the feeding mechanism are abundant and thorough, and far exceed the number of functional studies. Many of these studies have investigated the functional role of morphological features such as the protrusible upper jaw, but only recently have we begun to interpret the mechanics of the feeding apparatus and how it affects feeding behavior. Teeth are represented in the fossil record and are readily available in extant sharks. Therefore much is known about their morphology but again functional studies are primarily theoretical and await experimental analysis. Recent mechanistic approaches to the study of prey capture have revealed that kinematic and motor patterns are conserved in many species and that the ability to modulate feeding behavior varies greatly among taxa. In addition, the relationship of jaw suspension to feeding behavior is not as clear as was once believed, and contrary to previous interpretations upper jaw protrusibility appears to be related to the morphology of the upper jaw-chondrocranial articulation rather than the type of jaw suspension. Finally, we propose a set of specific hypotheses including: (1) The functional specialization for suction feeding hypothesis that morphological and functional specialization for suction feeding has repeatedly arisen in numerous elasmobranch lineages, (2) The aquatic suction feeding functional convergence hypothesis that similar hydrodynamic constraints in bony fishes and sharks result in convergent morphological and functional specializations for suction feeding in both groups, (3) The feeding modulation hypothesis that suction capture events in sharks are more stereotyped and therefore less modulated compared to ram and bite capture events, and (4) The independence of jaw suspension and feeding behavior hypothesis whereby the traditional categorization of jaw suspension types in sharks is not a good predictor of jaw mobility and prey capture behavior. Together with a set of questions these hypotheses help to guide future research on the feeding biology of sharks.

evolution diet prey capture jaws muscles teeth modulation protrusion 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip J. Motta
    • 1
  • Cheryl D. Wilga
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaU.S.A.
  2. 2.Biological SciencesUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonU.S.A.