Comparative anatomy and evolutionary history of suction feeding in cetaceans



Some odontocetes possess unique features of the hyolingual apparatus that are involved in suction feeding. The hyoid bone and associated musculature generates rapid, piston-like retraction, and depression of the hyoid and tongue. “Capture” suction feeders (e.g., Globicephala) use suction for capturing and swallowing prey. “Combination” feeders (i.e., Lagenorhynchus) use both raptorial feeding (to capture prey) and suction (to ingest prey). In “capture” suction feeders, features of the hyoid and skull have been attributed to creating suction (i.e., large surface area and mandibular bluntness). In addition to odontocetes, a mysticete, the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), is considered a benthic suction feeder. However, anatomical studies of purported suction-feeding structures of the gray whale are lacking. In addition, few studies have utilized evolutionary approaches to understand the history of suction feeding in cetaceans. This study incorporates quantitative and qualitative hyoid and cranial data from 35 extant and 14 extinct cetacean species into a multivariate principal component analysis and comparative phylogenetic analyses. Conclusions from these analyses are that some commonly attributed features (i.e., ventral throat grooves and mandibular bluntness) and one principal component are significantly correlated with suction feeding. Finally, ancestral state reconstructions indicate that suction feeding likely evolved once, early in cetacean evolutionary history.