Avicularia are polymorphic zooids characteristic of cheilostome bryozoans. Avicularia are assumed to have a defensive role yet ascertaining the presence of sensory structures to support this theory has been overlooked. We examine palatal morphology of the avicularia from five species of cheilostome bryozoans and compare the ultrastructural anatomy of the avicularia from two bugulid species from different habitats. SEM analysis revealed an array of palatal morphologies. Small tufts of cilia emerge from the orifice in the palate of the avicularia of Tricellaria catalinensis, Arachnopusia unicornis and Catenicella pseudoelegans. A ciliated vestigial polypide emerges from the orifice in the palate of Rhynchozoon zealandicum and comprises eleven papillae, or vestigial tentacles, seven of which are covered in microvilli. The vestigial polypide of the bird's head avicularium of the cosmopolitan Bugula flabellata consists of a mass of ciliated and unciliated cells containing numerous granular vesicles. The avicularium of B. flabellata is capable of detecting tactile stimulation by virtue of the tuft of sensory cilia and is proactive in the capture of invertebrate epibionts. In contrast, in the deep-sea Nordgaardia cornucopioides, the vestigial polypide consists of a ciliated vestigial tentacle encased by glandular secretory cells. Avicularia possess structures derived from a feeding autozooid, and we show how the homologous structures have evolved and suggest that avicularia have been modified to carry out a variety of specific functions. © 2010 Springer-Verlag.
- Vestigial polypide