This study examines patterns of variation in 15 electromyographic (EMG) variables measured from recordings of pharyngeal jaw muscle activity during prey processing in four species of the perciform fish family Haemulidae. Two questions were of primary interest. (1) Are motor patterns conserved across the four species? (2) Do the fishes alter (modulate) muscle activity patterns when feeding on different prey types? The experimental design used allowed the partitioning of variance in EMG variables among species, among individuals within species, among days within individuals, among feedings within days, and among prey types. Only one variable exhibited a significant species effect, indicating that the four species used virtually the same motor pattern during prey processing. In response to three prey types differing in hardness, all four species demonstrated an ability to modulate several EMG variables that characterized the intensity of electrical activity. However, variables characterizing the relative timing of muscle activities were not influenced by prey type. A significant variance component was found among recording days and, together with the possibility of variation among experimental preparations, this raises questions about the extent of previously reported inter-individual variation in EMGs. These results support a growing data base on aquatic feeding in lower vertebrates which finds that: (1) motor patterns tend to be highly conserved among closely related taxa; (2) the ability to modulate motor patterns in response to different prey types appears to be a general property of teleost fish feeding mechanisms; and (3) variation in experimental EMG data is ubiquitous and, when unaccounted for, confounds comparisons among treatment groups.

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