Lehmann, Tobias; Hess, Martin; Melzer, Roland R.
Wiring a periscope--ocelli, retinula axons, visual neuropils and the ancestrality of sea spiders.
In: PLOS ONE
The Pycnogonida or sea spiders are cryptic, eight-legged arthropods with four median ocelli in a 'periscope' or eye tubercle. In older attempts at reconstructing phylogeny they were Arthropoda incertae sedis, but recent molecular trees placed them as the sister group either to all other euchelicerates or even to all euarthropods. Thus, pycnogonids are among the oldest extant arthropods and hold a key position for the understanding of arthropod evolution. This has stimulated studies of new sets of characters conductive to cladistic analyses, e.g. of the chelifores and of the hox gene expression pattern. In contrast knowledge of the architecture of the visual system is cursory. A few studies have analysed the ocelli and the uncommon "pseudoinverted" retinula cells. Moreover, analyses of visual neuropils are still at the stage of Hanström's early comprehensive works. We have therefore used various techniques to analyse the visual fibre pathways and the structure of their interrelated neuropils in several species. We found that pycnogonid ocelli are innervated to first and second visual neuropils in close vicinity to an unpaired midline neuropil, i.e. possibly the arcuate body, in a way very similar to ancestral euarthropods like Euperipatoides rowelli (Onychophora) and Limulus polyphemus (Xiphosura). This supports the ancestrality of pycnogonids and sheds light on what eyes in the pycnogonid ground plan might have 'looked' like. Recently it was suggested that arthropod eyes originated from simple ocelli similar to larval eyes. Hence, pycnogonid eyes would be one of the early offshoots among the wealth of more sophisticated arthropod eyes.