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Reconstruction of cranial and hyobranchial muscles in the triassic temnospondyl Gerrothorax provides evidence for akinetic suction feeding



The cranial and hyobranchial muscles of the Triassic temnospondyl Gerrothorax have been reconstructed based on direct evidence (spatial limitations, ossified muscle insertion sites on skull, mandible, and hyobranchium) and on phylogenetic reasoning (with extant basal actinopterygians and caudates as bracketing taxa). The skeletal and soft-anatomical data allow the reconstruction of the feeding strike of this bottom-dwelling, aquatic temnospondyl. The orientation of the muscle scars on the postglenoid area of the mandible indicates that the depressor mandibulae was indeed used for lowering the mandible and not to raise the skull as supposed previously and implies that the skull including the mandible must have been lifted off the ground during prey capture. It can thus be assumed that Gerrothorax raised the head toward the prey with the jaws still closed. Analogous to the bracketing taxa, subsequent mouth opening was caused by action of the strong epaxial muscles (further elevation of the head) and the depressor mandibulae and rectus cervicis (lowering of the mandible). During mouth opening, the action of the rectus cervicis muscle also rotated the hyobranchial apparatus ventrally and caudally, thus expanding the buccal cavity and causing the inflow of water with the prey through the mouth opening. The strongly developed depressor mandibulae and rectus cervicis, and the well ossified, large quadrate-articular joint suggest that this action occurred rapidly and that powerful suction was generated. Also, the jaw adductors were well developed and enabled a rapid mouth closure. In contrast to extant caudate larvae and most extant actinopterygians (teleosts), no cranial kinesis was possible in the Gerrothorax skull, and therefore suction feeding was not as elaborate as in these extant forms. This reconstruction may guide future studies of feeding in extinct aquatic tetrapods with ossified hyobranchial apparatus. J. Morphol., 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.