Comparative myoanatomy of Tardigrada: new insights from the heterotardigrades Actinarctus doryphorus (Tanarctidae) and Echiniscoides sigismundi (Echiniscoididae)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Tardigrada is a group of microscopic invertebrates distributed worldwide in permanent and temporal aquatic habitats. Famous for their extreme stress tolerance, tardigrades are also of interest due to their close relationship with Arthropoda and Cycloneuralia. Despite recent efforts in analyzing the musculature of a number of tardigrade species, data on the class Heterotardigrada remain scarce. Aiming to expand the current morphological framework, and to promote the use of muscular body plans in elucidating tardigrade phylogeny, the myoanatomy of two heterotardigrades, Actinarctus doryphorus and Echiniscoides sigismundi, was analyzed by cytochemistry, scanning electron and confocal laser scanning microscopy and 3D imaging. We discuss our findings with reference to other tardigrades and internal phylogenetic relationships of the phylum.

We focus our analyses on the somatic musculature, which in tardigrades includes muscle groups spanning dorsal, ventral, and lateral body regions, with the legs being musculated by fibers belonging to all three groups. A pronounced reduction of the trunk musculature is seen in the dorsoventrally compressed A. doryphorus, a species that generally has fewer cuticle attachment sites as compared to E. sigismundi and members of the class Eutardigrada. Interestingly, F-actin positive signals were found in the head appendages of A. doryphorus. Our analyses further indicate that cross-striation is a feature common to the somatic muscles of heterotardigrades and that E. sigismundi—as previously proposed for other echiniscoidean heterotardigrades—has relatively thick somatic muscle fibers.

We provide new insights into the myoanatomical differences that characterize distinct evolutionary lineages within Tardigrada, highlighting characters that potentially can be informative in future phylogenetic analyses. We focus our current analyses on the ventral trunk musculature. Our observations suggest that seven paired ventromedian attachment sites anchoring a large number of muscles can be regarded as part of the ground pattern of Tardigrada and that fusion and reduction of cuticular attachment sites is a derived condition. Specifically, the pattern of these sites differs in particular details between tardigrade taxa. In the future, a deeper understanding of the tardigrade myoanatomical ground pattern will require more investigations in order to include all major tardigrade lineages.
Original languageEnglish
Article number206
JournalB M C Evolutionary Biology
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Number of downloads are based on statistics from Google Scholar and

No data available

ID: 229856431