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Feeding Underground: Kinematics of Feeding in Caecilians


Anthony Herrel, C.N.R.S/M.N.H.N., Département d'Ecologie et de Gestion de la Biodiversité, 57 rue Cuvier, CP 55, 75231 Paris, France. Email:


Caecilians are limbless amphibians that have evolved distinct cranial and postcranial specializations associated with a burrowing lifestyle. Observations on feeding behavior are rare and restricted to above-ground feeding in laboratory conditions. Here we report data on feeding in tunnels using both external video and X-ray recordings of caecilians feeding on invertebrate prey. Our data show feeding kinematics similar to those previously reported, including the pronounced neck bending observed during above-ground feeding. Our data illustrate, however, that caecilians may be much faster than previously suspected, with lunge speeds of up to 7 cm sec−1. Although gape cycles are often slow (0.67 ± 0.29 sec), rapid jaw closure is observed during prey capture, with cycle times and jaw movement velocities similar to those observed in other terrestrial tetrapods. Finally, our data suggest that gape angles may be large (64.8 ± 18°) and that gape profiles are variable, often lacking distinct slow and fast opening and closing phases. These data illustrate the importance of recording naturalistic feeding behavior and shed light on how these animals are capable of capturing and processing prey in constrained underground environments. Additional data on species with divergent cranial morphologies would be needed to better understand the co-evolution between feeding, burrowing, and cranial design in caecilians. J. Exp. Zool. 317A:533–539, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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