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Food ingestion in the estuarine turtle Malaclemys terrapin: Comparison with the marine leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea



Food ingestion in the estuarine turtle Malaclemys terrapin: Comparison with the marine leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea



Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 78(3): 953-972



This study sheds light on the evolution of aquatic and terrestrial feeding modes in vertebrates, using two aquatic turtles as models. The estuarine aquatic diamondback turtle Malaclemys terrapin has a feeding mechanism that is similar to the basic feeding mechanism of terrestrial tetrapods (jaw gape cycles incorporate slow opening, fast opening, fast closing and slow closing phases). Strikes upon prey also involve neck extension and cycles of the forelimbs. Malaclemys terrapin modulate their feeding behaviour and jaw action in relation to the nature of the prey item. Mussels are approached by walking on the substratum, and limb cycles are of small amplitude during the strike. Crabs, whether encountered in mid-water or on the substratum, are approached by swimming, and the strikes partly produced by vigorous upstrokes of the forelimbs, that occur simultaneously with neck extension. Crabs are dangerous prey, and the turtles often strike with the gape already at maximum, minimizing the time needed to bite a limb or other part of the crab. The tongue is not involved in food capture, but has a major role in food manipulation and transport prior to swallowing. Although transport cycles are similar to ingestion cycles, ingestion and transport are easily separable in the species. Malaclemys terrapin exhibit great distension of the throat during the strike, but this does not appear to generate adequate suction to aid capture of hard-shelled prey; it is suggested that throat distension reduces pressures in front of the advancing snout, thus preventing pressure waves displacing or alerting prey. The pelagic marine turtle Dermochelys coriacea, which specializes in gelatinous prey, relies heavily on suction for ingestion, which overlaps considerably with transport.

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Accession: 008697591

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DOI: 10.1017/S0025315400044908



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