A taste of the deep-sea: The roles of gustatory and tactile searching behaviour in the grenadier fish Coryphaenoides armatus
The deep-sea grenadier fishes ( Coryphaenoides spp.) are among the dominant predators and scavengers in the ocean basins that cover much of Earth's surface. Baited camera experiments were used to study the behaviour of these fishes. Despite the apparent advantages of rapidly consuming food, grenadiers attracted to bait spend a large proportion of their time in prolonged periods of non-feeding activity. Video analysis revealed that fish often adopted a head-down swimming attitude (mean of 21.3° between the fish and seafloor), with swimming velocity negatively related to attitude. The fish also swam around and along vertical and horizontal structures of the lander with their head immediately adjacent to the structure. We initially hypothesised that this behaviour was associated with the use of the short chin barbel in foraging. Barbel histology showed numerous taste buds in the skin, and a barbel nerve with about 20,000 axons in adult fish. A tracing experiment in one undamaged animal revealed the termination fields of the barbel neurons in the trigeminal and rhombencephalic regions, indicating both a mechanoreceptory and a gustatory role for the barbel. Our conclusion was that olfactory foraging becomes ineffective at close ranges and is followed by a search phase using tactile and gustatory sensing by the barbel. The development of this sensory method probably co-evolved alongside behavioural changes in swimming mechanics to allow postural stability at low swimming speeds.