Prey capture kinematics and four-bar linkages in the bay pipefish, Syngnathus leptorhynchus

Brooke E. Flammang, Lara A. Ferry-Graham, Christopher Rinewalt, Daniele Ardizzone, Chante Davis, Tonatiuh Trejo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Because of their modified cranial morphology, syngnathid pipefishes have been described as extreme suction feeders. The presumption is that these fishes use their elongate snout much like a pipette in capturing planktonic prey. In this study, we quantify the contribution of suction to the feeding strike and quantitatively describe the prey capture mechanics of the bay pipefish Syngnathus leptorhynchus, focusing specifically on the role of both cranial elevation and snout movement. We used high-speed video to capture feeding sequences from nine individuals feeding on live brine shrimp. Sequences were digitized in order to calculate kinematic variables that could be used to describe prey capture. Prey capture was very rapid, from 2 to 6 ms from the onset of cranial rotation. We found that suction contributed at most about one-eighth as much as ram to the reduction of the distance between predator and prey. This movement of the predator was due almost exclusively to movement of the snout and neurocranium rather than movement of the whole body. The body was positioned ventral and posterior to the prey and the snout was rotated dorsally by as much as 21°, thereby placing the mouth immediately behind the prey for capture. The snout did not follow the identical trajectory as the neurocranium, however, and reached a maximum angle of only about 10°. The snout consists, in part, of elongate suspensorial elements and the linkages among these elements are retained despite changes in shape. Thus, when the neurocranium is rotated, the four-bar linkage that connects this action with hyoid depression simultaneously acts to expand and straighten the snout relative to the neurocranium. We confirm the presence of a four-bar linkage that facilitates these kinematics by couplings between the pectoral girdle, urohyal, hyoid complex, and the neurocranium-suspensorium complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-96
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Cranial rotation
  • Functional morphology
  • Ram feeding
  • Snout rotation
  • Suction feeding


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