Hunting copepods

Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in ocean and freshwater habitats. Many species are planktonic (drifting in the ocean water), while others are benthic (living on the sea floor). Copepods are typically one millimetre (0.04 in) to two millimetres (0.08 in) long, with a teardrop shaped body. Like other crustaceans they have an armoured exoskeleton, but they are so small that this armour, and the entire body, is usually transparent. Copepods are usually the dominant zooplankton. Some scientists say they form the largest animal biomass on the planet. The other contender is the Antarctic krill. But copepods are smaller than krill, with faster growth rates, and they are more evenly distributed throughout the oceans. This means copepods almost certainly contribute more secondary production to the world's oceans than krill, and perhaps more than all other groups of marine organisms together. They are a major item on the forage fish menu. Copepods are very alert and evasive. They have large antennae. When they spread their antennae they can sense the pressure wave from an approaching fish and jump with great speed over a few centimeters. Herrings are pelagic feeders. Their prey consists of a wide spectrum of phytoplankton and zooplankton, amongst which copepods are the dominant prey. Young herring usually capture small copepods by hunting them individually they approach them from below. The (half speed) video loop at the left shows a juvenile herring feeding on copepods. In the middle of the image a copepod escapes successfully to the left. The opercula (hard bony flaps covering the gills) are spread wide open to compensate the pressure wave which would alert the copepod to trigger a jump. If prey concentrations reach very high levels, the herrings adopt a method called "ram feeding". They swim with their mouth wide open and their opercula fully expanded. Every several feet, they close and clean their gill rakers for a few milliseconds (filter feeding). In the photo on the right, herring ram feed on a school of copepods. The fish all open their mouths and opercula wide at the same time (the red gills are visibleclick to enlarge). The fish swim in a grid where the distance between them is the same as the jump length of their prey, as indicated in the animation below. In the animation, juvenile herring hunt the copepods in synchronization: The copepods sense with their antennae the pressure-wave of an approaching herring and react with a fast escape jump. The length of the jump is fairly constant. The fish align themselves in a grid with this characteristic jump length. A copepod can dart about 80 times before it tires out. After a jump, it takes it 60 milliseconds to spread its antennae again, and this time delay becomes its und

ing, as the almost endless stream of herrings allows a herring to eventually snap the copepod. A single juvenile herring could never catch a large copepod. Copepods (pron.: /?ko?p?p?d/; meaning "oar-feet") are a group of small crustaceans found in the sea and nearly every freshwater habitat. Some species are planktonic (drifting in sea waters), some are benthic (living on the ocean floor), and some continental species may live in limno-terrestrial habitats and other wet terrestrial places, such as swamps, under leaf fall in wet forests, bogs, springs, ephemeral ponds and puddles, damp moss, or water-filled recesses (phytotelmata) of plants such as bromeliads and pitcher plants. Many live underground in marine and freshwater caves, sinkholes, or stream beds. Copepods are sometimes used as bioindicators. Gill rakers in fish are bony or cartilaginous processes that project from the branchial arch (gill arch) and are involved with filter feeding tiny prey. They are not to be confused with the gill filaments that compose the bony part of the gill. Rakers are usually present in two rows, projecting from both the anterior and posterior side of each gill arch. Rakers are widely varied in number, spacing, and form. By preventing food particles from exiting the spaces between the gill arches, they enable the retention of food particles in filter feeders.[1] The structure and spacing of gill rakers in fish determines the size of food particles trapped, and correlates with feeding behavior. Fish with densely spaced, elongated, comb-like gill rakers are efficient at filtering tiny prey, whereas carnivores and omnivores often have more widely spaced gill rakers with secondary projections. Because gill raker characters often vary between closely related taxa, they are commonly used in the classification and identification of fish species. Much of the variation in gill raker morphology is thought to be due to adaptation to optimize the consumption of different diets. In order to prevent the potentially damaging passage of solid material through the gill slits and over the gill filaments, early gill rakers strained large particles from the water and diverted them to the esophagus. Since an appreciable fraction of this material was nutritious, rakers subsequently evolved as food-trapping mechanisms in filter feeders. Gill rakers, when long and closely set, play the same role in filter-feeding fish such as mullet, herring, megamouth, basking and whale sharks, as baleen in the filter-feeding whales.[2] Gill rakers in land-dwelling and mangrove crabs are feather-like structures which brush moisture over the gills to prevent their dehydration and ensure their ability to absorb oxygen.[3] These gill rakers are not thought be homologous to fish gill rakers.