Feeding and the control of volume within the tests of regular sea-urchins



The rigid, fluid filled, echinoid test presents problems of internal volume control when the vital functions of the animal involve the introduction of material, from outside the test, into the internal fluid systems. The volume of food in the guts of echinoids can be shown to vary considerably in the short term, to an extent which demands considerable capabilities for internal volume compensation. This is achieved by adjusting the quantity of fluid held within the gut so that, although the volume of food may vary widely, the total volume of the gut remains constant within narrow limits. The volume of gut fluid varies inversely with the quantity of food, and ingestion of food through the mouth is compensated by ejection of an equal volume of fluid from the anus. Defaecation is compensated by intake of fluid into the gut. On starvation, the gut becomes completely fluid filled and free from food.

The food of regular urchins is habitually compacted into regularly sized subpherical pellets covered with a tough mucus coating. The formation of coated pellets takes place in the buccal cavity and pharynx. The pellets remain discrete throughout their passage along the gut. The mucus coating resists digestion and remains intact even after defaecation. The functional morphology of the buccal cavity and pharynx is described in detail.

It is suggested that the functional significance of the pellets is associated with the gut fluid, volume compensation mechanism, which requires free flow of fluid throughout the length of the gut. It is also suggested that the siphon may be implicated in volume control, where fine adjustment of gut volume can be achieved by balancing ejection of fluid from the anus with intake of water through the mouth, but that the water intake is by the siphonal route, thus avoiding the necessity of flushing and diluting the enzyme rich digestive stomach region.