The long rostrum of the paddlefish Polyodon spathula supports an extensive array of ampullary electroreceptors and has been proposed to function as an antenna for detecting planktonic prey. Evidence in support of this hypothesis is presented in experiments that preclude the use of other sensory mechanisms for plankton detection. Paddlefish swimming in a recirculating observation chamber are shown to feed normally in the dark when prey-related chemical and hydrodynamic sensory cues are masked or attenuated. Specifically, we demonstrate that the spatial distribution of plankton captured by paddlefish is little changed when the plankton are individually encapsulated in agarose, when a high background concentration of plankton extract is added to the chamber, when the nares are plugged and under turbulent water flow conditions. Paddlefish also discriminate between encapsulated plankton and ‘empty’ agarose particles of the same size. Although capture distributions differed somewhat under certain conditions, the general pattern and effectiveness of prey capture were not disrupted by these procedures. These results support the conclusion that paddlefish, as zooplanktivores, rely on their passive electric sense for prey detection.

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