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Filter feeders (also known as suspension feeders) are animals that feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water, typically by passing the water over a specialized filtering structure. Some animals that use this method of feeding are clams, krill, sponge, some fish and sharks, and baleen whales. Some birds, such as flamingos, are also filter feeders. Filter feeders can play an important role by clarifying water.

Examples

Fish

Many fish are filter feeders. For example, the Atlantic menhaden, a type of herring, lives on plankton caught in midwater. Adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute; and they play an important role in clarifying ocean water. They are also a natural check to the deadly red tide.

Shrimp



Mysidacea are three cm long shrimps that live close to shore and hover above the sea floor, constantly collecting particles with their filter basket. They are an important food source for herring, cod, flounder, and striped bass. Mysids have a high resistance to toxins in polluted areas, and may contribute to high toxin levels in their predators.

Krill

The Antarctic krill manages to directly utilize the minute phytoplankton cells, which no other higher animal of krill size can do. This is accomplished through filter feeding, using the krill's developed front legs, providing for a very efficient filtering apparatus: the six thoracopods form a very effective "feeding basket" used to collect phytoplankton from the open water. In the animation at the top of this page, the krill is hovering at a 55° angle on the spot. In lower food concentrations, the feeding basket is pushed through the water for over half a meter in an opened position, and then the algae are combed to the mouth opening with special setae on the inner side of the thoracopods.

Sharks

Three shark species are filter feeders.

  • The whale shark sucks in a mouthful of water, closes its mouth and expels the water through its gills. During the slight delay between closing the mouth and opening the gill flaps, plankton is trapped against the dermal denticles which line its gill plates and pharynx. This fine sieve-like apparatus, which is a unique modification of the gill rakers, prevents the passage of anything but fluid out through the gills (anything above 2 to 3 mm in diameter is trapped). Any material caught in the filter between the gill bars is swallowed. Whale sharks have been observed "coughing" and it is presumed that this is a method of clearing a build up of food particles in the gill rakers.


  • The basking shark is a passive filter feeder, filtering zooplankton, small fish and invertebrates from up to 2,000 tons of water per hour. Unlike the megamouth and whale sharks, the basking shark does not appear to actively seek its quarry, but it does possess large olfactory bulbs that may guide it in the right direction. Unlike the other large filter feeders, it relies only on the water that is pushed through the gills by swimming; the megamouth shark and whale shark can suck or pump water through their gills.


  • The megamouth shark has luminous organs called photophores around its mouth. It is believed they may exist to lure plankton or small fish into its mouth.


Baleen whales

The baleen whales, also called whalebone whales or great whales, form the Mysticeti, one of two suborders of the Cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth. This distinguishes them from the other suborder of cetaceans, the toothed whales or Odontoceti. The suborder contains four families and fourteen species. The scientific name derives from the Greek word mystidos, which means "unknowable".

Bivalves

Bivalves are aquatic molluscs which have two-part shell. Typically both shells (or valves) are symmetrical along the hinge line. The class has 30,000 species, including scallops, clams, oysters and mussels. Most bivalves are filter feeders (although some have taken up scavenging and predation), extracting organic matter from the sea in which they live. Nephridia, the shell fish version of kidneys, remove the waste material. Buried bivalves feed by extending a siphon to the surface.

As an example, oysters draw water in over their gills through the beating of cilia. Suspended food (phytoplankton, zooplankton, algae and other water-borne nutrients and particles) are trapped in the mucus of a gill, and from there are transported to the mouth, where they are eaten, digested and expelled as feces or pseudofeces. Each oyster filters up to five litres of water per hour. Scientists believe that the Chesapeake Bay's once-flourishing oyster population historically filtered the estuary's entire water volume of excess nutrients every three or four days. Today that process would take almost a year, and sediment, nutrients, and algae can cause problems in local waters. Oysters filter these pollutants, and either eat them or shape them into small packets that are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless.

Sponges

Sponges have no true circulatory system; instead, they create a water current which is used for circulation. Dissolved gases are brought to cells and enter the cells via simple diffusion. Metabolic wastes are also transferred to the water through diffusion. Sponges pump remarkable amounts of water. Leuconia, for example, is a small leuconoid sponge about 10 cm tall and 1 cm in diameter. It is estimated that water enters through more than 80,000 incurrent canals at a speed of 6cm per minute. However, because Leuconia has more than 2 million flagellated chambers whose combined diameter is much greater than that of the canals, water flow through chambers slows to 3.6cm per hour. Such a flow rate allows easy food capture by the collar cells. All water is expelled through a single osculum at a velocity of about 8.5 cm/second: a jet force capable of carrying waste products some distance away from the sponge.

Jellyfish

The moon jellyfish has a grid of fibres which are slowly pulled through the water. The motion is so slow that copepods cannot sense it and don't react with an escape response.Image:Aureliaauritakils1.jpg|An undulating live Aurelia in the Baltic Seamarker showing the grid in action.Image:Aureliaauritakils2.jpg|Higher magnification showing a prey item, probably a copepod.Image:Aureliaauritakils3.jpg|The prey is then drawn to the body by contracting the fibres in a corkscrew fashion (image taken with an ecoSCOPE.

Flamingos

Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp. Their oddly-shaped beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae which line the mandibles, and the large rough-surfaced tongue.

See also



Notes

  1. Extensive article on the role of menhaden in the ecosystem and possible results of overfishing.
  2. Kils, U.: Swimming and feeding of Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba - some outstanding energetics and dynamics - some unique morphological details. In Berichte zur Polarforschung, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Special Issue 4 (1983): "On the biology of Krill Euphausia superba", Proceedings of the Seminar and Report of Krill Ecology Group, Editor S. B. Schnack, 130-155 and title page image.
  3. See Hickman and Roberts (2001) Integrated principles of zoology — 11th ed., p.247


References



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