Frontal organs in the Acoelomorpha (Turbellaria): Ultrastructure and phylogenetic significance


Using characters discernible through electron microscopy, we redefine the organ traditionally identified as the frontal organ in acoelomorph turbellarians as being a collection of two to several large mucus-secreting glands whose necks emerge together through a frontal pore at the exact apical pole of the body, i.e. at the point where the pattern of epidermal ciliary rootlets converges. Representatives that we have studied of each of the acoel families Paratomellidae, Diopisthoporidae, Solenofilomorphidae, Convolutidae, Otocelidae, and Mecynostomidae, as well as a representative of the Nemertodermatida, have such glands. Up to five additional types of glands that open anteriorly outside of the frontal pore, some of which are indistinguishable from glands of the general body wall, could be seen in the nemertodermatid, in Hesiolicium inops (Paratomellidae), and in representatives of the latter four acoel families. In Paratomella, three different types of glands open in diffuse fashion in a frontal glandular complex reminiscent of that in the Macrostomida.

Sensory elements near the frontal pore appear to be independent of the gland necks, and so the organ cannot be considered a sensory organ.

The frontal organ, as described above, appears very likely to be homologous within the Acoelomorpha, and represents another strong (although unrooted) autapomorphy for this line of turbellarian evolution.

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Smith, J.P.S., Tyler, S. Frontal organs in the Acoelomorpha (Turbellaria): Ultrastructure and phylogenetic significance. Hydrobiologia 132, 71–78 (1986).

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  • Turbellaria
  • Acoela
  • Nemertodermatida
  • ultrastructure
  • mucous gland
  • sensory