Feeding ecology and diet

Copepods exploit an enormous variety of food sources and have diverse feeding behaviors. In the plankton, many feed on small particles such as unicellular phytoplankton, protists, and other microorganisms. They capture these particles by generating water currents, using the slow swimming movements of antennae and maxillipeds. At the small scale of physics where copepods operate, water behaves in a highly viscous manner, so the currents created (known as laminar flow fields) act like a conveyor belt drawing food particles in towards the other mouthparts. Lateral movements of mandibular palps and max-illules then draw water as well as particles into range of the maxillae, which capture the particles in a raptorial manner. Other oceanic copepods are scavengers and specialist detritus feeders, which have acute chemosensory systems associated with their feeding systems. Benthic copepods feed on organic matter of all kinds, both living and dead. Some families are specialist associates of macroalgae. About half of all copepod species are symbionts living in association with multicellular animal hosts, including sponges, polychaetes, echinoderms, mollusks, crustaceans, and chordates, particularly tunicates and fishes. Their lifestyles are often poorly known, but many are parasitic, living inside or on the outer surface of their hosts.

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