Soft-bodied organisms with hydrostatic skeletons range enormously in body size, both during the growth of individuals and in the comparison of species. Therefore, body size is an important consideration in an examination of the mechanical function of hydrostatic skeletons. The scaling of hydrostatic skeletons cannot be inferred from existing studies of the lever-like skeletons of vertebrates and arthropods because the two skeleton types function by different mechanisms. Hydrostats are constructed of an extensible body wall in tension surrounding a fluid or deformable tissue under compression. It is the pressurized internal fluid (rather than the rigid levers of vertebrates and arthropods) that enables the maintenance of posture, antagonism of muscles and transfer of muscle forces to the environment. The objectives of the present study were (1) to define the geometric, static stress and dynamic stress similarity scaling hypotheses for hydrostatic skeletons on the basis of their generalized form and function, and (2) to apply these similarity hypotheses in a study of the ontogenetic scaling of earthworms, Lumbricus terrestris, to determine which parameters of skeletal function are conserved or changed as a function of body mass during growth (from 0.01 to 8 g). Morphometric measurements on anesthetized earthworms revealed that the earthworms grew isometrically; the external proportions and number of segments were constant as a function of body size. Calculations of static stresses (forces per cross-sectional area in the body wall) during rest and dynamic stresses during peristaltic crawling (calculated from measurements of internal pressure and body wall geometry) revealed that the earthworms also maintained static and dynamic stress similarity, despite a slight increase in body wall thickness in segment 50 (but not in segment 15). In summary, the hydrostatic skeletons of earthworms differ fundamentally from the rigid, lever-like skeletons of their terrestrial counterparts in their ability to grow isometrically while maintaining similarity in both static and dynamic stresses.

This content is only available via PDF.