Feeding mechanism of Epibulus insidiator (Labridae; Teleostei): Evolution of a novel functional system. Academic Article uri icon


  • The feeding mechanism of Epibulus insidiator is unique among fishes, exhibiting the highest degree of jaw protrusion ever described (65% of head length). The functional morphology of the jaw mechanism in Epibulus is analyzed as a case study in the evolution of novel functional systems. The feeding mechanism appears to be driven by unspecialized muscle activity patterns and input forces, that combine with drastically changed bone and ligament morphology to produce extreme jaw protrusion. The primary derived osteological features are the form of the quadrate, interopercle, and elongate premaxilla and lower jaw. Epibulus has a unique vomero-interopercular ligament and enlarged interoperculo-mandibular and premaxilla-maxilla ligaments. The structures of the opercle, maxilla, and much of the neurocranium retain a primitive labrid condition. Many cranial muscles in Epibulus also retain a primitive structural condition, including the levator operculi, expaxialis, sternohyoideus, and adductor mandibulae. The generalized perciform suction feeding pattern of simultaneous peak cranial elevation, gape, and jaw protrusion followed by hyoid depression is retained in Epibulus. Electromyography and high-speed cinematography indicate that patterns of muscle activity during feeding and the kinematic movements of opercular rotation and cranial elevation produce a primitive pattern of force and motion input. Extreme jaw protrusion is produced from this primitive input pattern by several derived kinematic patterns of modified bones and ligaments. The interopercle, quadrate, and maxilla rotate through angles of about 100 degrees, pushing the lower jaw into a protruded position. Analysis of primitive and derived characters at multiple levels of structural and functional organization allows conclusions about the level of design at which change has occurred to produce functional novelties.

publication date

  • November 1989