Viviparous development in Botrylloides (Compound Ascidians)



The mode of sexual reproduction and embryogenesis was compared in 3 species of Botrylloides: B. simodensis, B. lenis, and B. violaceus. In all species, a testis and an egg (occasionally 2 eggs), the former being anterior to the latter, mature in the mantle on either side of a zooid. The egg is surrounded by 2 follicular layers and is attached by a vesicular follicle stalk (oviduct) to the atrial brood pouch. The egg is ovulated into the brood pouch, where it is fertilized and undergoes embryogenesis. The egg of B. simodensis is heavily yolked and measures about 180 μm in diameter. The course of embryogenesis in this species is that typical of ascidians. A mature tadpole larva is produced and shed in about 5 days; then, the mother zooid degenerates. The larva is smallest of the three species and has 8 ampullae. The metamorphosed oozooid bears a single bud on the right side only. Extraembryonic nutrition seems to be very limited.

Both Botrylloides lenis and B. violaceus are species which display extreme examples of viviparity. Their eggs are devoid of yolk granules, measuring about 90 μm in diameter in the former species and 60 μm in the latter. The course of embryogenesis is similar in these 2 species. The neurula stage is characterized by a spherical vesicular shape owing to precocious differentiation of the embryonic pharynx, whose ectoderm becomes vacuolated. At the posterior end of the neurula, the mesodermal cells are located in a mass, from which the tail is extended later. In B. lenis, embryogenesis takes about 20 days. At the neurula stage of the embryo, the mother zooid becomes a mantle sac as a result of visceral disintegration. During further embryogenesis, the growth of buds of successive generations in the colony is characteristically arrested. A swimming larva of this species is somewhat larger than that of B. simodensis. It has 14–24 ampullae, and the oozooid carries a single bud on its right side. In B. violaceus, the gestation period lasts for more than a month. At the early gastrula stage of the embryo, the body of the mother zooid fully disintegrates. Only the brood pouch bearing the embryo survives and remains connected with the colonial vascular system. In this species, sexual reproduction does not affect the growth of buds in the colony. The swimming larva is gigantic, being furnished with 24–34 ampullae, and the oozooid always bears 3 buds, 2 on the right side and one on the left side.