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Ernst, Franziska; Fabritius, Helge-Otto; Griesshaber, Erika; Reisecker, Christian; Neues, Frank; Epple, Matthias; Schmahl, Wolfgang W.; Hild, Sabine; Ziegler, Andreas (October 2020): Functional adaptations in the tergite cuticle of the desert isopod Hemilepistus reaumuri (Milne-Edwards, 1840). In: Journal of Structural Biology, Vol. 212, No. 1
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To survive in its extreme habitat, the cuticle of the burrowing desert isopod Hemilepistus reaumuri requires properties distinct from isopods living in moist or mesic habitats. In particular, the anterior tergites are exposed to high mechanical loads and temperatures when individuals guard the entrance of their burrow. We have, therefore, investigated the architecture, composition, calcite texture and local mechanical properties of the tergite cuticle, with particular emphasis on large anterior cuticle tubercles and differences between the anterior and posterior tergite. Unexpectedly, structure and thickness of the epicuticle resemble those in mesic isopod species. The anterior tergite has a thicker endocuticle and a higher local stiffness than the posterior tergite. Calcite distribution in the cuticle is unusual, because in addition to the exocuticle the endocuticle distally also contains calcite. The calcite consists of a distal layer of dense and highly co-oriented crystal-units, followed proximally by irregularly distributed and, with respect to each other, misoriented calcite crystallites. The calcite layer at the tip of the tubercle is thicker relative to the tubercle slopes, and its crystallites are more misoriented to each other. A steep decrease of local stiffness and hardness is observed within a distal region of the cuticle, likely caused by a successive increase in the ACC/calcite ratio rather than changes in the degree of mineralisation. Comparison of the results with other isopods reveals a much lower ACC/calcite ratio in H. reaumuri and a correlation between the degree of terrestriality of isopod species and the magnesium content of the cuticle.