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Keywords:

  • locomotion;
  • elasmobranch;
  • propterygium;
  • crura

Abstract

Although the majority of batoid elasmobranchs, skates and rays, are benthically associated, benthic locomotion has been largely overlooked in this group. Only skates have been previously described to perform a form of benthic locomotion termed “punting.” While keeping the rest of the body motionless, the skate's pelvic fins are planted into the substrate and then retracted caudally, which thrusts the body forward. In this study, we demonstrate that this form of locomotion is not confined to the skates, but is found across a range of phylogenetically and morphologically diverse batoid species. However, only the clearnose skate, Raja eglanteria, and the lesser electric ray, Narcine brasiliensis, performed “true punting,” in which only the pelvic fins were engaged. The yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis, and the Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina, performed “augmented punting,” in which pectoral fin movement was also used to generate thrust. Despite this supplemental use of pectoral fins, the augmented punters failed to exceed the punting capabilities of the true punters. The urobatid and the true punters all punted approximately half their disc length per punt, whereas the dasyatid punted a significantly shorter distance. The skate punted significantly faster than the other species. Examination of the pelvic fin musculature revealed more specialized muscles in the true punters than in the augmented punters. This concordance of musculature with punting ability provides predictive power regarding the punting kinematics of other elasmobranchs based upon gross muscular examinations. In contrast to previous assumptions, our results suggest that benthic locomotion is widespread among batoids. J. Morphol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.