Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

January 2006


Published in The Journal of Arachnology 34:566–577. Copyright © American Arachnological Society. Used by permission.


Amblypygids have modified front legs that are not used for locomotion, but rather to probe the environment in the manner of antennae. These elongate, motile sense organs are referred to as antenniform legs. We have found remarkable replication in structure and function of giant neurons in the antenniform leg of the amblypygid Phrynus marginemaculatus C. L. Koch 1841 when compared with other amblypygids. These neurons have such large diameter axons (several μm) that their action potentials can be recorded outside the cuticle. Their cell bodies are found in the periphery, in the distal-most segments of the antenniform leg, centimeters away from the central nervous system. Primary afferents from sense organs on the antenniform leg synapse onto some of the giant fibers in these distal segments of the leg. Standard histological techniques and a novel whole mount preparation were used to identify the location of giant cell bodies within the antenniform leg. We found several new cell bodies in segments 10–20, three of which were predicted by previous electrophysiological studies of another amblypygid, Heterophrynus elaphus Pocock 1903. Electrophysiology was used to show that the structure and function of four of the giant neurons, GN1, 2, 6, and 7, is very similar in P. marginemaculatus and H. elaphus. Heterophrynus elaphus inhabits humid tropical forests in South America while P. marginemaculatus individuals were collected from a pine rock hammock in the Florida Keys, USA. The similarity of findings in species with such distinct habitats suggests that the giant neurons are required for basic neuromechanical operation of these extended limbs, and are not subject to intense selection via ecological factors.