Fins improved mobility

Several other groups of fishes became abundant during the Devonian period.

Cartilaginous fishes (class Chon-drichthyes)—the sharks, skates and rays, and chimaeras (Figure 34.12)—have a skeleton composed entirely of a firm but pliable material called cartilage. Their skin is flexible and leathery, sometimes bearing scales that give it the consistency of sandpaper.

Cartilaginous fishes control their movement with pairs of unjointed appendages called fins: a pair of pectoral fins just behind the gill slits and a pair of pelvic fins just in front of the anal region (see Figure 34.9). A dorsal median fin stabilizes the fish as it moves. Sharks move forward by means of lateral undulations of their bodies and tail fins. Skates and rays propel themselves by means of vertical undulating movements of their greatly enlarged pectoral fins.

Most sharks are predators, but some feed by straining plankton from the water. The world's largest fish, the whale shark (Rhincodon typhus), is a filter feeder. It may grow to more than 12 meters in length and weigh more than 12,000 kilograms. Most skates and rays live on the ocean floor, where they feed on mollusks and other invertebrates buried in the sediments. Nearly all cartilaginous fishes live in the oceans, but a few are estuarine or migrate into lakes and rivers. One group of stingrays is found only in river systems of South America. The chimaeras are found in deep ocean waters and are seen less often than the sharks and rays.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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