A major challenge faced by sessile animals that feed in the flow is to maintain effective feeding postures while enduring hydrodynamic forces. Garden eels exhibit an exceptional lifestyle: feeding on drifting zooplankton while being “anchored” in a burrow they dig in the sand. Using underwater observations, sampling and 3-D video recording, we measured the feeding rates and characterized feeding postures of garden eels under a wide range of current speeds. We show that the eels behaviorally resolve the tradeoff between adverse biomechanical forces and beneficial fluxes of food by modulating their body postures according to current speeds. In doing so, the eels substantially reduce drag forces when currents are strong, yet keep their head well above bottom in order to effectively feed under conditions of high prey fluxes. Those abilities allowed garden eels to become one of the rare oceanic fishes that live in sandy, predation-rich habitats and feed on zooplankton while being attached to the bottom.
Alexandra Khrizman, Gal Ribak, Dmitri Churilov, Irena Kolesnikov, and Amatzia Genin