, Volume 131, Issue 2, pp 171–184 | Cite as

A place for nourishment or a slaughterhouse? Elucidating the role of spermathecae in the terrestrial annelid Hormogaster elisae (Clitellata: Opisthopora: Hormogastridae)

  • Marta NovoEmail author
  • Ana Riesgo
  • Carmen Roldán
  • Gonzalo Giribet
  • Darío J. Díaz Cosín
Original Paper


The capacity of storing sperm within the female reproductive tract occurs widely across vertebrate and invertebrate species. Although the type and position of spermathecae have been commonly used as a taxonomic character in Opisthopora, few studies have focused on the ultrastructural description of these interesting storage organs. This study is the first to report on the ultrastructure of the spermathecae and spermatozoa of Hormogaster elisae, an endemism of the central area of the Iberian Peninsula that presents two pairs of tubular spermathecae. Light and electron microscopy showed that the spermathecae are full of highly packed spermatozoa embedded in an electron-dense substance. Two layers constitute the spermathecal wall. The outer layer consists of peritoneal cells, collagenous basal laminae at different levels, several layers of striated muscle, and numerous blood vessels. The inner layer is a monostratified epithelium of prismatic cells presenting long and abundant microvilli probably for the maintenance of a favorable environment for the spermatozoa. The epithelial cells show high activity, and three different types of secretions were detected: holocrine, merocrine, and apocrine, whose hypothetical function on nourishment and/or causing quiescence is discussed here. Although no phagocytotic processes were detected, some sperm cells were observed in digestive vesicles within the cytoplasm of the epithelial cells, and there was also evidence of active sperm entrance into the epithelium. A place for nourishment or a slaughterhouse? Probably both.


Annelida Opisthopora Spermathecae Spermatozoa Sperm digestion Transmission electron microscopy Secretions 



We are indebted to Rosa Fernández for field assistance and advice on sample preparation. We also thank Carolyn Marks and Adam Graham for their constant availability and help on sample processing and TEM imaging in the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS) at Harvard University. M.N. was supported by a Grant from Fundación Caja Madrid and A.R. by a Marie Curie Outgoing Fellowship. This research was funded by internal MCZ funds to G.G. and CGL2010/16032 from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation to D.J.D.C. and C.R.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta Novo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ana Riesgo
    • 1
  • Carmen Roldán
    • 2
  • Gonzalo Giribet
    • 1
  • Darío J. Díaz Cosín
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative ZoologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Departamento de Zoología y Antropología Física, Facultad de BiologíaUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain

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