Role of the Gastropod Shell and Operculum in Inhibiting Predation by Fishes

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Science  01 Jul 1988:
Vol. 241, Issue 4861, pp. 92-94
DOI: 10.1126/science.241.4861.92


In contrast to the diets of other cottid fishes and most teleosts, the diet of Asemichthys taylori is dominated by gastropod mollusks. Access to this underused prey appears to be made possible by morphological speializations of the neurocanium that allow Asemichthys to puncture the shells of its prey during mastication. Unpunched, the shell and operculum act as a barrier to digestion; more than 40% of the unpunched gastropods emerged alive in the feces. Asemichthys adjusted its punching behavior in an apparently adaptive way; other prey lacking such barriers to digestion were rarely punched. The ability of some shelled invertebrates to avoid digestion may make them less desirable as prey for many fishes that cannot masticate this kind of prey. The ability of shelled mollusks to survive in the digestive tracts of vertebrates may provide a dispersal mechanism for otherwise sedentary species.