Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 139–159 | Cite as

A functional analysis of food procurement in two surgeonfish species,Acanthurus nigrofuscus andCtenochaetus striatus (Acanthuridae)

  • Steven W. Purcell
  • David R. Bellwood
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The mechanisms of food procurement in the surgeonfishesCtenochaetus striatus andAcanthurus nigrofuscus from the Great Barrier Reef were determined by functional analyses of the jaws and associated structural elements (based on myological and osteological examinations and X-ray photographs) and by video analyses of actions of the mouth and body during feeding.Acanthurus nigrofuscus has relatively robust jaw bones. The movement of the elements during mouth opening is limited with a mean maximum gape angle of 112.8°. Each bite is relatively fast and is characterized by a quick nip at algal filaments, usually followed by a sidewads flick of the head. The jaws bear several broad multidenticulate teeth. It appears that these teeth engage turf algal strands which are either sheared during mouth closure or torn off as the head flicks sideways. InC. striatus, the jaw bones are considerably lighter than those ofA. nigrofuscus. There is much greater movement of the elements during mouth opening, resulting in a mean maximum gape angle of 177.6°. Each bite is slower than inA. nigrofuscus and is characterized by a wide gape as the mouth is applied to the substratum followed by a quick, upward flick of the lower jaw, with no sideways flick of the head. The jaws bear numerous elongate flexible teeth, with expanded incurved denticulate tips; those on the dentary often possessing a pointed blade-like process. It appears that these teeth brush particulate and epiphytic material from the surface of the turf algal strands and other substrata. These observations demonstrate howA. nigrofuscus andC. striatus are able to remove microalgae and detritus, respectively, from the same substratum. The results also demonstrate how relatively small differences in morphology can have a profound influence on the feeding abilities and trophic ecology of fishes.

Key words

Morphology Dentition Coral reef fish Herbivory Detritivory Feeding 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven W. Purcell
    • 1
  • David R. Bellwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Marine BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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