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Vital staining of the stick insect digestive system identifies appendices of the midgut as novel system of excretion


The stick insects or phasmids (Phamsatodea) have a series of pyriform ampulles with long, thin filaments on the posterior end of their midgut referred to as the "appendices of the midgut." Found only in phasmids, their function had never been determined until now. Their similarity to the Malpighian tubules, which are ubiquitous insect organs of excretion, suggested a similar function. To differentiate between the appendices and the Malpighian tubules and compare functional differences between the two tissue types, vital staining (the injection of histological stains into living organisms) was done in conjunction with light and scanning electron microscopy in multiple phasmid species. The results showed that the appendices originated in the basal phasmids (Timematidae) and grew more numerous in derived species. The appendices stain selectively, notably failing to pick up the indicators of the two known systems of invertebrate excretory function, indigo carmine and ammonium carmine. Appendices sequester stains in the ampule portion before eliminating the compounds into the midgut. We conclude by confirming that the appendices do have an excretory function, but one unlike any other known in invertebrates. Their function is likely cation excretion, playing a role in calcium regulation and/or organic alkaloid sequestration. The appendices must thus be considered distinct organs from the Malpighian tubules.

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