Cryptic niche switching in a chemosymbiotic gastropod

Chong Chen*, Katrin Linse, Katsuyuki Uematsu, Julia D. Sigwart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
134 Downloads (Pure)


Life stages of some animals, including amphibians and insects, are so different that they have historically been seen as different species. ‘Metamorphosis’ broadly encompasses major changes in organism bodies and, importantly, concomitant shifts in trophic strategies. Many marine animals have a biphasic lifestyle, with small pelagic larvae undergoing one or more metamorphic transformations before settling into a permanent, adult morphology on the benthos. Post-settlement, the hydrothermal vent gastropod Gigantopelta chessoia experiences a further, cryptic metamorphosis at body sizes around 5 – 7 mm. The terminal adult stage is entirely dependent on chemoautotrophic symbionts; smaller individuals do not house symbionts and presumably depend on grazing. Using high-resolution X-ray microtomography to reconstruct the internal organs in a growth series, we show that this sudden transition in small but sexually mature individuals dramatically reconfigures the organs, but is in no way apparent from external morphology. We introduce the term ‘cryptometamorphosis’ to identify this novel phenomenon of a major body change and trophic shift, not related to sexual maturity, transforming only the internal anatomy. Understanding energy flow in ecosystems depends on the feeding ecology of species; the present study highlights the possibility for adult animals to make profound shifts in biology that influence energy dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20181099
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1882
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2018


  • Cryptometamorphosis
  • Hydrothermal vent
  • Life history
  • Metamorphosis
  • Mollusc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Cryptic niche switching in a chemosymbiotic gastropod'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this