• body elongation;
  • gastrointestinal tract;
  • anteroposterior patterning;
  • Erpetoichthys;
  • Polypterus


Elongate body forms have evolved numerous times independently within Vertebrata. Such body forms have evolved in large part via changes to the vertebral column, either through addition or lengthening of vertebrae. Previous studies have shown that body elongation in fishes has evolved most frequently through the addition of caudal vertebrae. In contrast, however, body elongation in Polypteriformes, a basal clade of ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii), has evolved through the addition of precaudal vertebrae; one genus, Erpetoichthys, has approximately twice as many precaudal vertebrae as do members of its sister genus, Polypterus. Thus, polypteriform fishes provide an excellent opportunity to study the effects of precaudal elongation on the gross morphology and organization of visceral organs contained within the body cavity. In this study, we document the anteroposterior positions of most major visceral organs in representative species of both genera (E. calabaricus and P. palmas), relative to both vertebral number and percent pre-anal length. We found that, whereas the positions of the anterior and posterior borders of the visceral organs relative to percent pre-anal length were generally similar between the two species, most visceral organs were positioned further posteriorly in E. calabaricus than in P. palmas with respect to vertebral number. Based on previous determinations of the molecular control of anteroposterior patterning of the visceral organs, we discuss which possible changes in gene expression may have led to the anatomical modifications seen in the visceral morphology of Erpetoichthys. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.