The role of the notochard in forward and reverse swimming and burrowing in the amphioxus Branchiostoma lanceolatum



Analyses of high speed cinefilm have shown that amphioxus swims either forward or backward with undulatory movement generated at the leading end, the wave of displacement passing along the body with increasing amplitude. The leading end, whether this is “head” or tail, is evidently more rigid than the trailing end, flexibility at each end changing with reversal in direction of swimming. It is suggested that control of the amplitude of the waves of displacement in different regions of the body in swimming is a function of the notochord, contraction of the muscular notochordal plates increasing its stiffness. Connections between the central nervous system and the notochordal plates via the notochordal pits are already known to exist.

As exposure to light invariably induces swimming in dark–adapted animals, it seems probable that the eyes function in initiating movement. The rate of increase in number and size of the eye cups during larval and adult growth and their pattern of distribution in the nerve cord are given. In the adult the eye cups occur predominantly in the anterior and posterior regions of the body. This may be of significance in providing the stimulus for changes in flexibility of these regions in swimming.

High speed cinefilm has also shown that amphioxus can burrow “head” or tail-first and move through sand in a forward or a reverse direction. It is suggested that rapid reversal of direction is of greater importance in movement through sand than in swimming.