ABSTRACT

Ghost crabs are the fastest and most aerobically fit of the land crabs. The exceptional locomotory capacity of these invertebrate athletes seemingly depends upon effective coupling between the cardiovascular system and skeletal muscles, but how these systems are integrated has not been well defined. In the present study, we investigated the relationship between aerobic muscle fibers within the skeletal muscles used to power running and the blood vessels supplying these muscles. We used histochemical staining techniques to identify aerobic versus glycolytic fibers and to characterize membrane invaginations within the aerobic fibers. We also determined how the diameters of these two fiber types scale as a function of body size, across two orders of magnitude. Vascular casts were made of the blood vessels perfusing these muscles, and special attention was given to small, capillary-like vessels supplying the fibers. Finally, we injected fluorescent microspheres into the hearts of living crabs and tracked their deposition into different muscle regions to quantify relative hemolymph flow to metabolic fiber types. Collectively, these analyses demonstrate that ghost crab muscles are endowed with an extensive arterial hemolymph supply. Moreover, the hemolymph flow to aerobic fibers is significantly greater than to glycolytic fibers within the same muscles. Aerobic fibers are increasingly subdivided by membrane invaginations as crabs increase in size, keeping the diffusive distances relatively constant. These findings support a functional coupling between a well-developed circulatory system and metabolically active muscle fibers in these invertebrates.

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