Marine Biology

, Volume 145, Issue 5, pp 989–1000 | Cite as

A comparison of strike and prey capture kinematics of three species of piscivorous fishes: Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus), redfin needlefish (Strongylura notata), and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

  • Heather T. PorterEmail author
  • Philip J. Motta
Research Article


Ram feeding is the process by which a predatory fish uses a high-velocity lunge or chase to overtake its prey. This study compares the strike and prey capture behaviors and kinematics of three species of ram-feeding fishes: Florida gar Lepisosteus platyrhincus, redfin needlefish Strongylura notata, and great barracuda Sphyraena barracuda. These ram-feeding piscivores are morphologically similar with fusiform bodies, posteriorly placed dorsal and anal fins, and large, conical teeth. Strike and prey capture kinematics for five individuals of each species were recorded with high-speed video. Pre-strike behavior in L. platyrhincus consists of a slow stalk, resulting in the close, lateral positioning of the predator’s head relative to the prey. Lepisosteus employ a sideways lunge of the head during the strike, which lasts only 25–40 ms and is the most rapid strike among these three species. Strongylura notata and Sphyraena barracuda exhibit longitudinal orientation to the prey before the strike, followed by a high velocity, head-on lunge, initiated by an s-start in Sphyraena barracuda. Prey capture in adult L. platyrhincus and Strongylura notata is characterized by the jaws closing on the prey, with the prey held orthogonal to the jaws. This is followed by manipulation using the inertia of the prey to reposition the prey head first, and then suction transport into the buccal cavity. Prey capture in juvenile Sphyraena is accomplished by closing the jaws after the prey has entered the buccal cavity, resulting in possible ram transport of the prey with no oral manipulation under these experimental conditions. Although these three species all employ ram feeding for prey capture of elusive prey, each species has a unique repertoire that appears to minimize hydrodynamic constraints and prey response, utilize locomotory capabilities, and may be suited to each species’ specific habitat.


Mouth Opening Prey Capture Buccal Cavity Maximum Gape Predator Size 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of time, materials, and assistance provided by R. Turingan, S. Bell, B. Cowell, D. Sasko, M. Robinson, M. Pretlow-Edmonds, G. Bergmann, M. Dean, D. Huber, D. Lowry, M. Matott, R. Myers, and M. Maloney. The University of South Florida provided facilities and equipment. Specimen collections were made possible in part by the facilities of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory. Equipment used in this research was supported by National Science Foundation Grants DEB 9117371 and IBN 9807863 to P.J.M. Experiments conducted during this study were approved by IACUC and comply with current U.S. laws.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Florida Marine Research InstituteFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionSt. PetersburgUSA

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