Suction feeding across fish life stages: Flow dynamics from larvae to adults and implications for prey capture

Sarit Yaniv, David Elad, Roi Holzman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Suction feeding is thought to be the primary mode of prey capture in most larval fishes. Similar to adult suction feeders, larvae swim towards their prey while rapidly expanding their mouth cavity to generate an inward flow of water that draws the prey into the mouth. Although larvae are known to experience flows with lower Reynolds numbers than adults, it is unclear how the suction-induced flow field changes throughout ontogeny, and how such changes relate to prey capture performance. To address these questions, we determined mouth dimensions and opening speeds in Sparus aurata from firstfeeding larvae to adults. We proceeded to develop a computational model of mouth expansion in order to analyze the scaling of suction flows under the observed parameters. Larval fish produced suction flows that were around two orders of magnitude slower than those of adults. Compared with adult fish, in which flow speed decays steeply with distance in front of the mouth, flow speed decayed more gradually in larval fish. This difference indicates that viscous forces in low Reynolds number flows modify the spatial distribution flow speed in front of the mouth. Consequently, simulated predator-prey encounters showed that larval fish could capture inert prey from a greater distance compared with adults. However, if prey attempted to escape then larval fish performed poorly: simulations inferred capture success in only weakly escaping prey immediately in front of the mouth. These ontogenetic changes in Reynolds number, suctioninduced flow field and feeding performance could explain a widespread ontogenetic diet shift from passive prey at early life stages to evasive prey as larvae mature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3748-3757
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2014


  • CFD
  • Critical period
  • Laminar flow
  • Larval fish
  • Reynolds numbers


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