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Invertebrate Biology


By controlling the traction between its body and the tube wall, a tube-dwelling polychaete can move efficiently from one end of its tube to the other, brace its body during normal functions (e.g., ventilation and feeding), and anchor within its tube avoiding removal by predators. To examine the potential physical interaction between worms and the tubes they live in, scanning electron microscopy was used to reveal and quantify the morphology of worm bodies and the tubes they produce for species representing 13 families of tube-dwelling polychaetes. In the tubes of most species there were macroscopic or nearly macroscopic (~10 μm–1 mm) bumps or ridges that protruded slightly into the lumen of the tube; these could provide purchase as a worm moves or anchors. At this scale (~10 μm-1 mm), the surfaces of the chaetal heads that interact with the tube wall were typically small enough to fit within spaces between these bumps (created by the inward projection of exogenous materials incorporated into the tube wall) or ridges (made by secretions on the interior surface of the tube). At a finer scale (0.01–10 μm), there was a second overlap in size, usually between the dentition on the surfaces of chaetae that interact with the tube walls and the texture provided by the secreted strands or microscopic inclusions of the inner linings. These linings had a surprising diversity of micro-textures. The most common micro-texture was a “fabric” of secreted threads, but there were also orderly micro-ridges, wrinkles, and rugose surfaces provided by microorganisms incorporated into the inner tube lining. Understanding the fine structures of tubes in conjunction with the morphologies of the worms that build them gives insight into how tubes are constructed and how worms live within them.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


This work is freely available courtesy of Wiley and American Microscopial Society under a Creative Commons License.