Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Unique Morphology in the Living Bathyal Feather Star, Atelecrinus (Echinodermata: Crinoidea)

Document Type


Publication Title

Invertebrate Biology



Publication Date

Summer 2003


Phylogeny, Comatulid, Jaekelometra, Atopocrinus, Atelecrinidae


Examination of the living bathyal feather star, Atelecrinus, using light and scanning electron microscopy reveals a series of morphological features, some apparently unique within the Crinoidea, which forces a reassessment of the relationship of the genus to other living feather stars. In the cavernous centrodorsal cavity, interradial buttresses end with a shallow oral concavity or deep pit. Two adjacent axils each bear a large distolateral calcareous process of unknown function that resembles a shoe with a deeply ridged sole. These processes project into the visceral mass with their "soles" apposed-the only known case among living crinoids in which a skeletal feature appears asymmetrically on two of five rays. Articular facets of distal brachials bear one distally-projecting, distal muscular fossa that overlaps a recumbent muscular fossa on the succeeding ossicle. Apposed projecting and recumbent fossae alternate sides on successive ossicles. The arm terminates in a long filament that lacks pinnules. Finally, modified ambulacral lappets resembling sessile pedicellariae but unsupported by skeletal plates flank the ambulacral grooves along the middle and proximal arms. Two of the four genera in the Atelecrinidae, extant monotypic Sibogacrinus anomalus and Cretaceous Jaekelometra, are removed from the family and treated as incertae sedis. Unique cirrus sockets are found in Atelecrinus and Atopocrinus sibogae (the only other remaining atelecrinid); members of Atopocrinus share unique ray morphology with those of the Pentametrocrinidae, and uniquely modified distal brachials are shared by individuals of Atelecrinus and Pentametrocrinus varians. However, the relationship of Atelecrinus to other feather stars remains unclear. The genus may represent a highly derived, paedomorphic comatulid as suggested by its unmetamorphosed basal ring and lack of proximal pinnules, or a non-comatulid distinguished by its cirrus sockets, skeletal processes and pedicellaria-like features. Robust answers require fresh material suitable for ultrastructural and molecular analyses.







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©2003 American Microscopical Society, Inc.

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