Sacoglossa or Acochlidia? 3D reconstruction, molecular phylogeny and evolution of Aitengidae (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia)

Timea P. Neusser, Hiroshi Fukuda, Katharina M. Jörger, Yasunori Kano, Michael Schördl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The amphibious 'bug-eating slug' Aiteng ater Swennen & Buatip, 2009 shows a worm-like, compact body shape lacking any cephalic tentacles or body processes. Anatomically it has been described as showing an unusual mix of sacoglossan and acochlidian characters, thus the systematic affinities are uncertain. The species is redescribed here with an integrative microanatomical and molecular approach. All major organ systems were three-dimensionally reconstructed from serial histological sections using AMIRA software. Aiteng ater has a prepharyngeal nerve ring with separate cerebral and pleural ganglia rather than cerebro-pleural ganglia, and no sacoglossan-like ascus is detectable histologically. The radula is triseriate rather than uniseriate, showing one lateral tooth on each side of the rhachidian tooth. A well-developed two-chambered heart is present. The vas deferens in A. ater splits off distal to the female glands. The intestine is short and opens into a small mantle cavity. Long cavities in the connective tissue are remains of dissolved calcareous spicules. Only a few characters thus remain to support a closer relationship of A. ater to Sacoglossa, i.e. the Gascoignella-like body shape lacking cephalic tentacles, the presence of an elysiid-like system of dorsal vessels, and an albumen gland consisting of follicles. Additionally we describe in microanatomical detail an equally small and vermiform new aitengid species from Japan. Aiteng mysticus n. sp. differs from A. ater in habitat, body size and colour, central nervous system and presence of a kidney. Both aitengid species resemble acochlidians in the retractibility of the head, by possessing calcareous spicules, a prepharyngeal nerve ring with separated cerebral and pleural ganglia, a triseriate radula with an ascending and descending limb, but without sacoglossan-like ascus, and a special diaulic reproductive system. The prominent rhachidian tooth of Aitengidae, which is used to pierce insects and pupae in A. ater, and the large, laterally situated eyes closely resemble the anatomy of members of the limnic Acochlidiidae. The acochlidian nature of Aiteng is strongly indicated by our molecular analysis, in which it forms a basal hedylopsacean offshoot or the sister clade to limnic Acochlidiidae and brackish or marine Pseudunelidae within Hedylopsacea. Such a topology would, however, imply that Aitengidae have lost the most characteristic acochlidian apomorphy, the subdivision of the body into a headfoot complex and a free, elongated visceral hump. Also, the absence of cephalic tentacles gives the Aitengidae an appearance that is very different to other, strictly aquatic Acochlidia. Differences of the external morphology and the internal anatomy are discussed in the light of a habitat shift of Aitengidae within the Acochlidia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-350
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Molluscan Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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