Marine teleost locates live prey through pH sensing

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Science  06 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6188, pp. 1154-1156
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252697

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Hold your breath or the catfish will find you

Finding prey is hard enough in the light of day, but animals that are nocturnal or live in murky conditions face even greater challenges. Caprio et al. describe a sense that allows a marine catfish to detect the mere “breathing” of their prey target. External sensors on the catfish's whiskers detect pH changes generated by hidden, respiring polychaete worms.

Science, this issue p. 1154


We report that the Japanese sea catfish Plotosus japonicus senses local pH-associated increases in H+/CO2 equating to a decrease of ≤0.1 pH unit in ambient seawater. We demonstrated that these sensors, located on the external body of the fish, detect undamaged cryptic respiring prey, such as polychaete worms. Sensitivity is maximal at the natural pH of seawater (pH 8.1 to 8.2) and decreases dramatically in seawater with a pH <8.0.

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