Eels with Alien-like double jaws

Scientists have discovered that Moray eels have a second set of mobile jaws behind the skull. The eel's regular jaws grab its prey and then, in a move reminiscent of the Alien mother, the secondary jaw shoots forward and pulls the meal back for swallowing. Researchers from UC Davis captured the amazing sequence using ultra-highspeed video and x-rays and are now studying how the jaws may have evolved. They published their discovery in this week's issue of the scientific journal Nature. From News@Nature:

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Unlike Sigourney Weaver's big-screen nemesis, these moray eels cannot extend their second set of jaws out beyond their first. But the ability to deliver not one but two bites is still a potent weapon in helping the eels feed, say Rita Mehta and Peter Wainwright of the University of California, Davis, who made the discovery…

Many fish species have extra jaws in their throats, which can function to filter food from water or to grind prey when swallowing. But the eel's extendable jaws are the first throat jaws known to be adapted to help catch prey, rather than simply to help swallow it, the researchers explain in Nature1 this week…

(Mark Westneat of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago) says the discovery harks back to an age when scientists discovered natural phenomena, rather than developing theories and testing them. He calls it "a classic example of discovery-based science, stemming from a 'wow' moment".

Link to News@Nature, Link to video,
Link to UC Davis press release

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