The evolution of parasitism is often accompanied by profound changes to the developmental program. However, relatively few studies have directly examined the developmental evolution of parasitic species from free-living ancestors. The lined sea anemone Edwardsiella lineata is a relatively recently evolved parasite for which closely related free-living outgroups are known, including the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. The larva of E. lineata parasitizes the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, and, once embedded in its host, the anemone assumes a novel vermiform body plan. That we might begin to understand how the developmental program of this species has been transformed during the evolution of parasitism, we characterized the gross anatomy, histology, and cnidom of the parasitic stage, post-parasitic larval stage, and adult stage of the E. lineata life cycle. The distinct parasitic stage of the life cycle differs from the post-parasitic larva with respect to overall shape, external ciliation, cnida frequency, and tissue architecture. The parasitic stage and planula both contain holotrichs, a type of cnida not previously reported in Edwardsiidae. The internal morphology of the post-parasitic planula is extremely similar to the adult morphology, with a complete set of mesenterial tissue and musculature despite this stage having little external differentiation. Finally, we observed 2 previously undocumented aspects of asexual reproduction in E. lineata: (1) the parasitic stage undergoes transverse fission via physal pinching, the first report of asexual reproduction in a pre-adult stage in the Edwardsiidae; and (2) the juvenile polyp undergoes transverse fission via polarity reversal, the first time this form of fission has been reported in E. lineata.

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