• brood pouch;
  • parental care;
  • Megathyridoidea;
  • histology;
  • self-fertilization


In extant brachiopods, parental brooding of the larvae occurs exclusively within Rhynchonelliformea. Methods of larval protection range from simple retention of the larvae within the mantle cavity, to sophisticated brood care within highly specialized brood pouches found in Argyrotheca and Joania (Terebratulida, Megathyridoidea), Gwynia (Terebratulida, Gwynioidea), and all Thecideoidea (Thecideida). Previous studies on the reproductive biology of Argyrotheca yielded contrasting results on the epithelial origin of the brood pouches in this genus. Here, representatives of different species of Argyrotheca from the Belize Barrier Reef were examined using histological section series. Brood pouches of four species, A. cf. schrammi and Argyrotheca sp. 1–3, are of the same basic structure, formed by invaginations of the anterior body wall and connected to the visceral cavity via the metanephridia. The same four species are simultaneously hermaphroditic, suggesting that fertilization is achieved, at least partly, through selfing. One species, Argyrotheca rubrocostata, differs significantly from all others as it has no brood pouch and gonochoric gonads. Thus, the presence of brood pouches and simultaneous hermaphroditism are concluded to be correlated within Megathyridoidea and proposed to be homologous traits of Joania and several but not all species of Argyrotheca, questioning the monophyletic status of both genera. In contrast to the brood pouches of Thecideoidea, lophophoral epithelium is not involved in the formation of the pouches of Argyrotheca and Joania. Therefore, megathyridoid and thecideoid brood pouches are not homologous but evolved independently within rhynchonelliform brachiopods. All brachiopods with brood pouches share a micromorphic form and a short life span, limiting the space and time available for gamete and larval development. We suggest that the brood pouches and the hermaphroditic gonads of Argyrotheca spp. and Joania compensate these limitations by minimizing the loss of gametes and larvae, and by maximizing the chances of successful fertilization. J. Morphol., 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.