Most fish species use concentric epaxial and hypaxial contractions to suction feed, whereby both muscle groups produce cranial expansion and negative intraoral pressures. In contrast, channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) suction feed with little to no cranial elevation and epaxial shortening, generating suction power primarily with hypaxial shortening and pectoral girdle retraction. We hypothesized that channel catfish (1) actively anchor the head via isometric contraction of the epaxials and (2) vary feeding performance by modulating the absolute and relative outputs of the co-contracting muscles. We used a combination of electromyography, intraoral pressure recordings and specimen manipulation, and developed a new dual-lever model to explore this idea. We detected epaxial and hypaxial co-contraction prior to suction force development in all strikes. Our model revealed that the differential between the co-contracting muscles may be used to modulate suction pressure and strike accuracy.

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