The process of prey capture by inertial suction was studied in three species of sunfishes (Lepomis auritus, L. macrochirus, and L. gibbosus) by the simultaneous recording of buccal and opercular cavity pressures in order to test current hydrodynamic models of feeding in fishes. Synchronous high-speed films permitted the correlation of kinematic patterns of jaw bone movement with specific pressure waveforms. Opercular cavity pressures averaged onefifth buccal pressures and pressure magnitude was correlated with prey type. Peak buccal and opercular pressures were −650 cm H2O and −150 cm H2O respectively; peak rate of pressure change was −100 cm H2O/ms. Buccal pressure magnitude varied inversely with degree of predator satiation.
Opercular pressure waveforms have an initial positive phase followed by a prolonged negative phase and then a final positive phase. The initial positive pressure may be absent during slow strikes at worms. Buccal pressure waveforms show considerable variability. The modal waveform consists of a sharp negative pressure pulse followed by a positive phase and finally by another pressure reduction. Delayed opercular abduction relative to mouth cavity compression correlates with the presence of a positive buccal phase. The second buccal negative pressure is the result of rapid mouth closing causing a pressure reduction (water hammer effect) as water flow continues posteriorly. These data indicate that (1) the buccal and opercular cavities are functionally separated by a gill curtain of high resistance, (2) that inertial effects of water are important in the description of the suction feeding process, (3) that a reverse flow of water (opercular to buccal cavity) may occur during the early phase of mouth opening prior to establishment of a buccal to opercular flow regime, and (4) current models of respiratory pressure and flow pattern cannot be applied to feeding. Current hydrodynamic models of suction feeding in fishes are re-evaluated in the light of this analysis.