For Largemouth Bass, Eating is a Whole Body Sport

“It’s like they are doing a stomach crunch to open their mouth.”

Largemouth bass are power eaters.  They have large muscles running along their backs and bellies, which provide bursts of speed for chasing down prey.  Then, at the very instant they close in, they vacuum victims into their suddenly gaping mouths with overwhelming suction.  It turns out that these power surges are no anatomical coincidence.  A new study shows that largemouth bass get their slurping power from the very same muscles that provide their swimming power.




Researchers show that the muscles in a bass’s head contribute virtually none of the power needed (at its peak it’s 15 watts) for the doubling of mouth volume that produces the overwhelming vacuum.  Instead, the fish’s elaborate arrangement of mouth bones acts more like the passive spokes of an umbrella, driven by the pull of the body’s swimming muscles.  An evolved linkage between the body and the head transfers the same brawn available for propulsion to the mouth for capturing prey.

Then the researchers calculated the power produced by each of the muscles in the mouth, as well as the swimming muscles in the body, during the suction action.  Their analysis showed that up to 95 percent of the power required for the suction came from the swimming muscles, rather than the mouth.  One key to feeding on fish is to have a large mouth, but the other part of the equation is speed, the researchers explain.  “A largemouth bass mostly relies on swimming to overtake its prey, and at the last moment will pop open its mouth — kind of like popping open an umbrella — and inhale the prey item.  They’re able to strike very quickly and inhale a huge volume of water, which allows them to catch elusive prey.”

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