Loss of Escape-Related Giant Neurons in a Spiny Lobster,Panulirus argus
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When attacked, many decapod crustaceans perform tailflips, which are triggered by a neural circuit that includes lateral giant interneurons, medial giant interneurons, and fast flexor motor giant neurons (MoGs). Slipper lobsters (Scyllaridae) lack these giant neurons, and it has been hypothesized that behavioral (e.g., digging) and morphological (e.g., flattening and armor) specializations in this group caused the loss of escape-related giant neurons. To test this hypothesis, we examined a species of spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. Spiny lobsters belong to the sister taxon of the scyllarids, but they have a more crayfish-like morphology than scyllarids and were predicted to have escape-related giant neurons. Ventral nerve cords of P. argus were examined using paraffin-embedded sections and cobalt backfills. We found no escape-related giant neurons and no large axon profiles in the dorsal region of the nerve cord of P. argus. Cobalt backfills showed one fewer fast flexor motor neuron than in species with MoGs and none of the fast flexor motor neurons show any of the anatomical specializations of MoGs. This suggests that all palinuran species lack this giant escape circuit, and that the loss of rapid escape behavior preceded, and may have driven, alternative predator avoidance and anti-predator strategies in palinurans.
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