The ontogeny of Limulus polyphemus (Xiphosura s. str., Euchelicerata) revised: looking “under the skin”

Abstract

In recent years, methods for investigating the exo-morphology of zoological specimens have seen large improvements. Among new approaches, auto-fluorescence imaging offers possibilities to document specimens under high resolution without introducing additional artifacts as, for example, seen in scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging. Additionally, while SEM imaging is restricted to the outer morphology of the current instar, auto-fluorescence imaging can be used to document changes of the outer morphology of the next instar underneath the cuticle of the current instar. Thus, reinvestigating seemingly well known species with these methods may lead to interesting new insights. Here we reinvestigate the late embryonic development of the xiphosuran (“sword tail”) Limulus polyphemus, which is often treated as a proxy for early eucheliceratan evolution. In addition to entire specimens, the appendages of the embryos were dissected off and documented separately with composite-autofluorescence microscopy. Based on these data, we can distinguish six developmental stages. These stages do not match exactly the formerly described stages, as these were largely based on SEM investigation. Our stages appear to represent earlier or later phases within what has in other studies been identified as one stage. This finer subdivision is visible as we can see the developing cuticle under the outer cuticle. In comparison to data from fossil xiphosurans, our results and those of other studies on the ontogeny of L. polyphemus point to a derived mode of development in this species, which argues against the idea of L. polyphemus as a “living fossil.”

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to Eric Lazo-Wasem and Daniel Drew, Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, for collecting, rearing and fixing the specimens. Jakob Krieger, University of Greifswald, is thanked for help with handling the specimens. We would like to thank Joachim T. Haug, LMU Munich, for his technical assistance and valuable discussions about xiphosuran development and tagmatization. Steffen Harzsch, University of Greifswald, and J. Matthias Starck, LMU Munich, are thanked for providing lab space and general support. CH was kindly funded by the Equal Opportunities Sponsorship of the LMU. This study is part of a project kindly funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) under HA 7066/3-1.

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Correspondence to Carolin Haug.

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Communicated by Nikola-Michael Prpic

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Haug, C., Rötzer, M.A.I.N. The ontogeny of Limulus polyphemus (Xiphosura s. str., Euchelicerata) revised: looking “under the skin”. Dev Genes Evol 228, 49–61 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00427-018-0603-1

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Keywords

  • Xiphosura sensu stricto
  • Embryonic development
  • Autofluorescence microscopy
  • Variability