RSS Leopards and Tamarins ? Show me your teeth

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  1. MASA Admin

    MASA Admin Moderator

    8 May 2007
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    When it comes to colloquial nomenclature, biologists are often perplexed at the colorful inter-species cross over, name lending charade that plague their respective fields. Entomologists specializing in butterflies may find themselves vexed at the numerous bird-related common names, such as albatrosses, crows, tits and jays. A Blue Jay, to an ornithologist, refers to the common passerine bird Cyanocitta cristata. To a lepidopterist, the fast flying swallowtail Graphium evemon comes to mind.

    Such examples exist even in our reef aquarium hobby. Where else would a possum mean a wrasse, and a tiger, an angelfish? Leopards and tamarins don’t mean big cats and exotic neotropical monkeys, instead, they represent two genus of labrids ubiquitous in the hobby. They are Macropharyngodon and Anampses.

    [​IMG]Anampses femininus, the feminine wrasse.

    Macropharyngodon and Anampses are sand-dwelling wrasses found only in the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Members of both genera can be differentiated from other labrids based on their general appearances, and also by their highly modified and unique dentition.

    Anampses is a fairly small genus with slightly over a dozen species, many of which are colorful and popular for the trade. A. chrysocephalus, A. femininus, A. neoguinaicus and A. twistii are just some of the charismatic characters that hobbyists are familiar with, to name a few.

    The genus is widely distributed across the Indo-Pacific, with Anampses caeruleopunctatus attaining the widest distribution from Africa all the way east to the Easter Islands. Ironically it is not found in Hawaii, where its endemic sister Anampses cuvieri replaces it. The latter shares this restricted range with A. chrysocephalus.

    [​IMG]Dentition structure of Anampses. Here, Anampses caeruleopunctatus.

    The characteristic morphological features for this genus includes amongst others, a pair of broad, forward projecting incisiform teeth. This dentition is very unique for the genus and is found in no other labrids. These chisel like teeth are normally sheathed under a pair of large, very fleshy lips. Another unique morphological feature are the presence of pharyngeal plates situated behind the jaws.

    On close inspection, you may notice these teeth sticking out of their mouths in a horizontal fashion. The dentition of forward pointing, horizontal teeth are really quite bizarre. Anampses feed primarily on benthic organisms associated closely with the reef catacombs that they peruse. Gut analysis reveals copepods, isopods, shrimps and other shelled invertebrate as their primarily food source, although the genus occasionally consumes worms as well.

    [​IMG]A male A. femininus with mouth ajar. Notice the fleshy lips and the lower teeth sticking out.

    Their chisel like teeth help to secure and pick at food living amongst rock and sand, while their pharyngeal plates crush and grind them into more appropriate sizes for swallowing. This action of crushing yields a very characteristic “clicking” sound, which wrasse aficionados or Anampses keepers will recognize instantly. Unfortunately, this also makes them very slow eaters, requiring some time to “chew” and process their meals.

    [​IMG]A. femininus picking at sand for prey, leaving a cloud of particles as it goes along.

    A healthy system replete with microfauna is useful in providing Anampses with grazing opportunities throughout the day. Their powerful jaws and teeth are capable of extracting even the most ornery of prey, and a cloud of pulverized rock is usually seen smoking out from the gills.

    Macropharyngodon, like Anampses, are also tropical warm water reef fishes found in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This genus is slightly larger, and the members are more ornately patterned in their namesake leopard-spotted motifs. As with the preceding genus, a plethora of leopard wrasses are available to the hobby, and species such as M. meleagris, M. choati, M. bipartitus and M. ornatus are just some of the many offerings.

    [​IMG]Pharyngeal canines of M. bipartitus.

    Macropharyngodon is also unique for possessing an unusual teeth structure, but unlike the former, lacks any forward pointing incisiform teeth. Instead, they possess a peculiar set of teeth located at the posterior corner of the upper jaw, which are protected by a pair of very fleshy lips.

    The generic epithet “Macropharyngodon” stems from the amalgamation of the words “makros”, “pharynx” and “odoús”; which means “large throat teeth” when directly translated from Greek. This naming stems from the large pharyngeal canines that the genus is so dearly associated with. These are normally hidden in plain view, and are only apparent when the fish hyper-extends its mouth.

    [​IMG]Macropharyngodon kuiteri showing its pharyngeal canines.

    All members of the genus possess this pair of throated canines, and they used this to crush shelled invertebrate prey which they share with Anampses. The mandibular teeth situated at the mouth’s front are used for snaring prey, with the pharyngeal teeth doing the rest of the work. Like Anampses, this means that they are also rather slow eaters, taking their time to “chew” and swallow.

    Leopard wrasses swim in a very calculated feline manner, stalking their environment in an almost jungle cat-like fashion. That being said, they have absolutely nothing in common with their terrestrial mammal counterpart, and likewise for Anampses. What the two genera do have in common however, are special shiny whites that set them apart from all the other basic and pedestrian wrasses.

    Don’t you wish you had horizontal teeth and pharyngeal plates? Who wants to conform to societal pressure? That’s boring. Making clicking noises when you eat is what’s really cool, and these fish know it. They own it.
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