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Journal Article

Large batoid fishes frequently consume stingrays despite skeletal damage


Dean,  Mason N.
Mason Dean (Indep. Res.), Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Max Planck Society;

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Dean, M. N., Bizzarro, J. J., Clark, B., Underwood, C. J., & Johanson, Z. (2017). Large batoid fishes frequently consume stingrays despite skeletal damage. Royal Society Open Science, 4(9): 170674. doi:10.1098/rsos.170674.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-FD36-0
The shapes of vertebrate teeth are often used as hallmarks of diet. Here, however, we demonstrate evidence of frequent piscivory by cartilaginous fishes with pebble-like teeth that are typically associated with durophagy, the eating of hard-shelled prey. High-resolution micro-computed tomography observation of a jaw specimen from one batoid species and visual investigation of those of two additional species reveal large numbers of embedded stingray spines, arguing that stingray predation of a scale rivalling that of the largest carnivorous sharks may not be uncommon for large, predatory batoids with rounded, non-cutting dentition. Our observations demonstrate that tooth morphology is not always a reliable indicator of diet and that stingray spines are not as potent a deterrent to predation as normally believed. In addition, we show that several spines in close contact with the jaw skeleton of a wedgefish (Rhynchobatus) have become encased in a disorganized mineralized tissue with a distinctive ultrastructure, the first natural and unequivocal evidence of a callus-building response in the tessellated cartilage unique to elasmobranch skeletons. Our findings reveal sampling and analysis biases in vertebrate ecology, especially with regard to the role of large, predatory species, while also illustrating that large body size may provide an escape from anatomical constraints on diet (e.g. gape size, specialist dentition). Our observations inform our concepts of skeletal biology and evolution in showing that tessellated cartilage—an ancient alternative to bone—is incapable of foreign tissue resorption or of restoring damaged skeletal tissue to its original state, and attest to the value of museum and skeletal specimens as records of important aspects of animal life history.