Feeding Postures Of Suspension-Feeding Larval Black Flies: The Conflicting Demands Of Drag And Food Acquisition

D. D. Hart
Rachel Merz, Swarthmore College
Salvatore Joseph Genovese 87, Swarthmore College
B. D. Clark


We tested whether larval black flies actively control the positioning of their feeding appendages (labral fans), and if so, whether their posture represents a balance between the conflicting demands of drag and feeding. We compared the postures of live larvae with the postures of larvae killed by heat-shock in three different flow regimes in a laboratory experiment; we assumed that the postures of heat-killed larvae approximated a passive response to drag. The average height of the labral fans above the bed declined significantly in faster flows, and was significantly greater in live than dead larvae. There was also a significant interaction effect, since the difference between the fan heights of live and dead larvae was greater in slower flows. Two mechanisms may contribute to this result. Larvae in slower flows have to increase their fan heights more than larvae living in faster flows to achieve comparable increases in velocity and thus particle flux. In addition, muscular strength may limit the feeding postures larvae can assume. The fan heights of live larvae also varied depending on the concentration of food particles: larvae exposed to low food concentrations held their fans higher above the bed than did larvae exposed to high food concentrations in the same flow regime. This change in posture is due neither to an uneven particle concentration in the boundary layer nor to added drag from particles trapped in the labral fans. Collectively, our results indicate that these suspension feeders actively control their feeding posture, and suggest that these varying postures represent a dynamic balance between the conflicting needs of minimizing drag and maximizing feeding.