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The Sawfish's Versatile Hunting Tool

Credit: Barbara Wueringer

Like a crazed sous-chef, the sawfish slices and dices using its long, sharp snout. But that's just one of this unique tool's applications, new research suggests. Scientists have long wondered what largetooth sawfish (Pristis microdon) do with their imposing paddle-shaped snouts ringed with sharp teeth. It turns out the organs are part homing devices and part deadly blades, researchers report online today in Current Biology. The team observed sawfish, predators native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, stalking mullet and other fish in captivity. When swimming in for the kill, the assassins often swiped their saws in the water or just over the sea bottom (see video), even using the weapon to cut unlucky mullet in two. But the sawfish's snout isn't just a carving knife. When the researchers used electrodes to create small electric pulses like the ones made by fish when they contract their muscles, sawfish immediately pointed their saws at the source, hinting that the organs also sense their prey's electric footprints.

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