Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


Heart electrical activity (ECGs), gill closer muscle potentials (EMGs), and blood pressures in the heart and the branchiocardiac canals, were measured in adult horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) during various activities. During ventilation, hyperventilation, and swimming, large transient increases in pressures (10-35 cm H2O) occur in the branchiocardiac canals, which carry blood from the gills to the heart. These pulses of positive pressure are related to, and apparently caused by, gill plate closing. During quiescent periods, with no ventilatory activity, there are no pressure pulses in the canals, but the pressure is still greater than zero. We found covariation of heart and ventilation rates during intermittent ventilation, hyperventilation, gill cleaning, and swimming, as well as evidence of transient periods of phasic coordination. The heart appears to be weakly entrained to the gill rhythm by phasic cardioregulatory nerve input. The preferred phase of heartbeats, with respect to gill rhythm, was 0.5, or 180 degrees out of phase. In some animals, intra-cardiac pressures were enhanced when the heart and gill rhythms were entrained. We suggest that rhythmic movements of the gill plates enhance the flow of low pressure blood returning from the body to the heart. Thus, ventilatory appendage movements may constitute an accessory blood pumping mechanism in Limulus.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Biological Sciences

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Journal Title

The Biological Bulletin


University of Chicago Press

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© 1989, The University of Chicago Press