Chaetae And Mechanical Function: Tools No Metazoan Class Should Be Without

Document Type


Publication Date


Published In



To address the functional contributions of capillary chaetae in the maldanid polychaete Clymenella torquata, we compared irrigation efficiency and tube structure for animals with intact and trimmed capillary chaetae. We measured pumping rates for worms before and after they were anaesthetized and subjected either to capillary trimming or mock trimming, i.e. handling without trimming. Worms with trimmed chaetae were significantly less effective at moving water through their tubes than those with intact chaetae. There were no significant differences in the ability of control worms to move water within their tubes. No significant changes in rates of peristalsis were observed among experimental or control groups. These data strongly suggest that body musculature and capillary chaetae work in concert to hold worms in position within tubes during peristaltic pumping. When chaetae are shortened, the body musculature must contract to a greater degree, increasing the functional diameter of the worm to achieve the necessary traction with the tube wall, resulting in less efficient irrigation. We also compared the inner diameters of original field tubes to tubes built by control worms or worms after capillary trimming. The inner diameters of new tubes built by worms with shortened chaetae were larger than their original tubes, while those of both control groups were not. One possible explanation is that the chaetae have a sensory role and shortened chaetae send the false message that the nascent tube walls are farther away than they are, the body contracts in compensation and the tube is widened, however this idea has not been tested.