ABSTRACT

Annelids constitute a diverse phylum with more than 19,000 species, which exhibit greatly varying morphologies and lifestyles ranging from sessile detritivores to fast swimming active predators. The lifestyle of an animal is closely linked to its sensory systems, not least the visual equipment. Interestingly, many errantian annelid species from different families, such as the scale worms (Polynoidae), have two pairs of eyes on their prostomium. These eyes are typically 100–200 µm in diameter and structurally similar judged from their gross morphology. The polynoids Harmothoe imbricata and Lepidonotus squamatus from the North Atlantic are both benthic predators preying on small invertebrates but only H. imbricata can produce bioluminescence in its scales. Here, we examined the eye morphology, photoreceptor physiology and light-guided behaviour in these two scale worms to assess their visual capacity and visual ecology. The structure and physiology of the two pairs of eyes are remarkably similar within each species, with the only difference being the gaze direction. The photoreceptor physiology, however, differs between species. Both species express a single opsin in their eyes, but in H. imbricata the peak sensitivity is green shifted and the temporal resolution is lower, suggesting that the eyes of H. imbricata are adapted to detect their own bioluminescence. The behavioural experiments showed that both species are strictly night active but yielded no support for the hypothesis that H. imbricata is repelled by its own bioluminescence.

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