December 22nd, 2012 by James Ayre
The most powerful bite of any fish known to have to ever existed is the amazonian black piranha and the extinct ‘megapiranha’, when body mass is taken into account, new research has found.
The new research has found that the highly specialized jaw structure of the piranha allows them such a powerful bite, so that they can attack and tear chunks of flesh out of much larger animals.
“Guillermo Ortí, the George Washington University Louis Weintraub Professor of Biology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, is one of the authors of the paper. His research focuses on the evolution of fishes in general, but specializes on Amazonian fishes, to unravel evolutionary relationships based on DNA sequence data. In 2010, Dr. Orti along with other researchers participated in an expedition to the Xingu and Iriri rivers in Amazonia to collect the data on the fish.”
The aggressive mindset of piranhas, their small size compared to their prey, and ease of studying populations of them make them a very good animal to use while investigating “the evolution of extreme biting capabilities.” Even though they are small fish, they typically attack and prey on fish or other animals several times larger than themselves.
And even though they have quite a reputation, there hasn’t been any quantitative data on their biting ability.
The research provides the first bite-force measurements data “taken from wild specimens of the largest species of carnivorous piranha in the Amazon, the black piranha, and describes the underlying functional morphology of the jaws that allows this creature to bite with a force more than 30 times greater than its weight. The powerful bite is achieved primarily due to the large muscle mass of the black piranha’s jaw and the efficient transmission of its large contractile forces through a highly modified jaw-closing lever.”
Amusingly, the scientific expedition was actually organized by National Geographic. The filmed a TV program on the extinct ‘Megapiranha’ as part of the expedition.
“It was very exciting to participate in this project, travel one more time to the Amazon to be able to directly measure bite forces in the wild,” said Dr. Orti. “I learned a lot of biomechanics from my colleagues while collecting valuable specimens for my own research.”
“The authors also reconstructed the bite force of the megapiranha, showing that for its relatively diminutive body size, the bite of this fossil piranha dwarfed that of other extinct mega-predators, including the whale-eating shark and the Devonian placoderm. Research at the Ortí lab at GW continues to focus on reconstructing the genealogical tree of fishes including piranhas based on genomic data.”
The new research was just published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: George Washington University
Image Credits: Courtesy of Guillermo Orti
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