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Radiolar Eyes of Serpulid Worms (Annelida, Serpulidae): Structures, Function, and Phototransduction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Michael J Bok
  • Megan L Porter
  • Harry A Ten Hove
  • Richard Smith
  • Dan-Eric Nilsson
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-57
Number of pages19
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number1
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Sep 2017
DatePublished (current) - 30 Oct 2017


Fan worms, represented by sabellid and serpulid polychaetes, have an astonishing array of unusual eyes and photoreceptors located on their eponymous feeding appendages. Here we organize the previous descriptions of these eyes in serpulids and report new anatomical, molecular, and physiological data regarding their structure, function, and evolution and the likely identity of their phototransduction machinery. We report that, as in sabellids, serpulids display a broad diversity of radiolar eye arrangements and ocellar structures. Furthermore, the visual pigment expressed in the eyes of Spirobranchus corniculatus, a species of the charismatic Christmas tree worms, absorbs light maximally at 464 nm in wavelength. This visual pigment closely matches the spectrum of downwelling irradiance in shallow coral reef habitats and lends support to the hypothesis that these radiolar photoreceptors function as a silhouette-detecting "burglar alarm" that triggers a rapid withdrawal response when the worm is threatened by potential predators. Finally, we report on the transcriptomic sequencing results for the radiolar eyes of S. corniculatus, which express invertebrate c-type opsins in their ciliary radiolar photoreceptors, closely related to the opsin found in the radiolar eyes of the sabellid Acromegalomma interruptum. We explore the potential for a shared evolutionary lineage between the radiolar photoreceptors of serpulids and sabellids and consider these unique innovations in the broader context of metazoan eye evolution.

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