‘Lophenteropneust’ hypothesis refuted by collection and photos of new deep-sea hemichordates


The deep ocean is home to a group of broad-collared hemichordates—the so-called ‘lophenteropneusts’—that have been photographed gliding on the sea floor1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 but have not previously been collected. It has been claimed that these worms have collar tentacles and blend morphological features of the two main hemichordate body plans, namely the tentacle-less enteropneusts and the tentacle-bearing pterobranchs. Consequently, lophenteropneusts have been invoked as missing links to suggest that the former evolved into the latter5. The most significant aspect of the lophenteropneust hypothesis is its prediction that the fundamental body plan within a basal phylum of deuterostomes was enteropneust-like. The assumption of such an ancestral state influences ideas about the evolution of the vertebrates from the invertebrates9,10,11,12,13,14. Here we report on the first collected specimen of a broad-collared, deep-sea enteropneust and describe it as a new family, genus and species. The collar, although disproportionately broad, lacks tentacles. In addition, we find no evidence of tentacles in the available deep-sea photographs (published and unpublished) of broad-collared enteropneusts, including those formerly designated as lophenteropneusts. Thus, the lophenteropneust hypothesis was based on misinterpretation of deep-sea photographs of low quality and should no longer be used to support the idea that the enteropneust body plan is basal within the phylum Hemichordata.

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Figure 1: Holotype of Torquarator bullocki (Phylum Hemichordata, Class Enteropneusta).
Figure 2: A diagram of Torquarator bullocki in dorsal view.
Figure 3: Deep-sea photographs of broad-collared enteropneusts not yet collected and described (depths, longitudes and latitudes are given in Table 1).


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We thank C. B. Cameron and R. P. S. Jefferies for valuable taxonomic advice, and B. J. Bett, J. Barry, R. Logeman, B. H. Robison, R. J. Singleton, R. C. Vrijenhoek and the crews and pilots of the research vessels Western Flyer, Akedemik Mstislav Keldysh and G.O. Sars, the manned submersibles ‘Mir1’ and ‘Mir2’, and the ROVs ‘Tiburon’ and ‘Bathysaurus’ for animal collection, photography, and unpublished observations. This study was partly under the auspices of the MAR-ECO Project within the Census of Marine Life Program and was partly supported by the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

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Correspondence to Nicholas D. Holland.

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Holland, N., Clague, D., Gordon, D. et al. ‘Lophenteropneust’ hypothesis refuted by collection and photos of new deep-sea hemichordates. Nature 434, 374–376 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03382

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