The oxygen transport physiology of sand snail Polinices sordidus egg masses was investigated using oxygen microelectrodes and open-flow respirometry. P. sordidus eggs are laid in a jelly matrix that rapidly absorbs water and swells into a horseshoe-shaped sausage. The average diameter of these sausages is 37 mm. Eggs are enclosed in capsules that are distributed throughout the jelly matrix, but 65 % of the eggs are located within 3 mm of the outer surface. There is no circulatory or canal system within the matrix so all gas exchange between developing embryos and the environment must occur by diffusion through the jelly matrix. Oxygen tension in the outer layer remains moderately high (PO2>10 kPa) throughout incubation but decreases rapidly in more centrally located regions, so that by day 4 embryos in this region are exposed to extremely hypoxic conditions (PO2<1 kPa). This hypoxia limits oxygen consumption of embryos to low levels and appears to slow embryonic development or even to arrest it. From day 4 onwards, the central region gradually become less hypoxic because the hatching of peripherally located embryos causes the outer layers of the jelly matrix to disintegrate and thus reduces the diffusion distance for oxygen between the centrally located embryos and the surrounding sea water. As the oxygen tension rises, development accelerates and the embryos eventually hatch as viable veligers, apparently unharmed by their prolonged exposure to hypoxia.

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