Prey capture in lizards: differences in jaw–neck–forelimb coordination




Although prey capture is thought to be based on the coordinated movements of the jaw and locomotor apparatus (i.e. the vertebral column and the limbs), jaw–neck–forelimb coordination has never been compared among related species. The kinematics of jaw, neck, and forelimb movements were recorded in lizards that use jaw prehension: Gerrhosaurus major, Tupinambis merianae, Varanus niloticus, and Varanus ornatus. These species provide a comparative framework to discuss the influence of morphological differences and ecological convergence on the jaw–neck–forelimb coordination patterns. Jaw–neck–forelimb coordination was quantified by determining whether maximum neck elevation and maximum forelimb flexion are synchronized with either the start of jaw opening or maximum gape. Significant differences in the jaw–neck–forelimb coordination pattern among species were observed, with maximum neck elevation being synchronized with the start of jaw opening in varanids, whereas in T. merianae and G. major, it is achieved closer to maximum gape. Differences in locomotor–feeding integration are suggested to be related to dietary specializations, and as such may play a role in feeding adaptation. The jaw–neck–forelimb coordination pattern used by varanids may indeed be advantageous to prepare a quick strike triggered from further away, providing a critical advantage when feeding on evasive prey. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 105, 607–622.