• Pinnotheres;
  • histology;
  • ultrastructure;
  • spermatheca;
  • holocrine secretion;
  • apocrine glandular epithelium


Commensal pea crabs inhabiting bivalves have a high reproductive output due to the extension andfecundity of the ovary. We studied the underlying morphology of the female reproductive system in the Pinnotheridae Pinnotheres pisum, Pinnotheres pectunculi and Nepinnotheres pinnotheres using light microscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Eubrachyura have internal fertilization: the paired vaginas enlarge into storage structures, the spermathecae, which are connected to the ovaries by oviducts. Sperm is stored inside the spermathecae until the oocytes are mature. The oocytes are transported by oviducts into the spermathecae where fertilization takes place. In the investigated pinnotherids, the vagina is of the “concave pattern” (sensu Hartnoll1968): musculature is attached alongside flexible parts of the vagina wall that controls the dimension of its lumen. The genital opening is closed by a muscular mobile operculum. The spermatheca can be divided into two distinct regions by function and morphology. The ventral part includes the connection with vagina and oviduct and is regarded as the zone where fertilization takes place. It is lined with cuticle except where the oviduct enters the spermatheca by the “holocrine transfer tissue.” At ovulation, the oocytes have to pass through this multilayered glandular epithelium performing holocrine secretion. The dorsal part of the spermatheca is considered as the main sperm storage area. It is lined by a highly secretory apocrine glandular epithelium. Thus, two different forms of secretion occur in the spermathecae of pinnotherids. The definite role of secretion in sperm storage and fertilization is not yet resolved, but it is notable that structure and function of spermathecal secretion are more complex in pinnotherids, and probably more efficient, than in other brachyuran crabs. J. Morphol., 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.