A barbel is a slender, tentacle-like sensory organ that extends from the jaw of a variety of fish species. This part of a fish’s head is a very sensitive organ, with many fine strands of nerve endings providing information to a fish about its environment. Barbels are used to feel for the presence of food or potential threats such as predators. Typically a fish will have at least four barbels in different areas around its head and mouth, with some species having more than four.
What are barbels in sharks?
Sharks also have barbels, but they are much different in appearance from most other fish. Instead of having a single long barbel as some species do, sharks have several shorter ones. These shorter, stubbier barbels are known as ampullae of Lorenzini and they contain electro-sensory cells that allow the shark to detect the electric fields generated by other animals in its environment. This allows them to hunt their prey with greater accuracy and efficiency than if they relied solely on visual sight. The ampullae of Lorenzini are lined up across a shark’s snout and each one is connected to a nerve bundle beneath the skin. Together these form an electro-sensing organ called the ampullary organ. This helps the shark to detect prey, navigate obstacles, and communicates with other sharks.
What kind of sharks have barbels?
Most species of sharks have barbels, but some are more specialized than others. The dogfish shark is an example of a fish that has highly specialized ampullae of Lorenzini. This species uses its barbels to detect the electrical signals generated by prey buried in the sand and mud at the bottom of the ocean. Hammerhead sharks also have very distinct ampullary organs composed of several short barbels set in a wide array on either side of their heads. These help them to scan large areas quickly and accurately for potential prey or threats in their environment. Other shark species such as the great white, bull, and tiger sharks also have barbels but they are less developed than those seen in hammerheads and dogfish sharks.