Digestive system of Balanoglossus

Introduction :- Digestive system of Balanoglossus

Nestled within the enigmatic phylum Hemichordata lies a remarkable marine invertebrate known as Balanoglossus. Despite its seemingly humble appearance, this creature harbors a digestive system that captivates the curiosity of researchers and enthusiasts alike. Within the context of its evolutionary significance and biological uniqueness, delving into the intricacies of Balanoglossus’ digestive anatomy unveils a world of wonder and scientific inquiry. In this article, we embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of the digestive system of Balanoglossus, exploring its structure, function, and evolutionary implications. Join us as we navigate through the depths of marine biology to gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating organism and its digestive prowess.

Alimentary canal

The alimentary canal is a complete and straight tube running between the mouth and anus. It is supported throughout its length by the dorsal and ventral mesenteries. Its wall is made up of ciliated epithelium covered externally by a basement membrane, but peculiarly, muscle layers are
absent. Alimentary canal comprises of (i) mouth,(ii) buccal cavity, (iii) pharynx, (iv) oesophagus, (v) intestine, and (vi) anus.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus


It is a wide and circular opening situated ventrally in a groove between the proboscis stalk and collarette. According to Knight-Jones (1952), it can be closed or opened and does not remain permanently open as previously supposed. It has two sets of muscle fibers, the radial fibers to open it and the concentric fibers to close it. The mouth leads into buccal cavity.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus

Buccal cavity

The short buccal cavity occupies the collar region. Its epithelial wall contains glandular goblet cells. Anteriorly its dorsal wall forms a short, stiff and hollow buccal diverticulum that projects into the proboscis coelom. Posteriorly it extends up to the collar-trunk septum behind which it continues into the pharynx.


It lies in the branchial region of the trunk. Externally its wall bears a longitudinal constriction along each lateral side. These lateral constrictions project into its lumen as ridges, called parabranchial ridges, consisting of tall columnar cells. These ridges incompletely divide the pharynx into a dorsal respiratory or branchial portion and a ventral digestive portion The dorsal branchial portion is perforated dorso-laterallv by two rows of U-shaped gill-slits, and is concerned with respiration. The ventral digestive portion, lined with ciliated epithelium with gland cells, helps in food concentration.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus


Behind the list pair of gill slits the pharynx, continues into the short oesophagus. The dorsal and ventral divisions of pharynx continue for some distance into oesophagus. In this region, the dorsal part is called post branchial canal which possesses thick, folded and glandular epithelium. The posterior part of oesophagus reduces in diameter and has deeply furrowed epithelium.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus


It occupies the hepatic and post hepatic regions of trunk. The hepatic region of the intestine is highly vascular. Its epithelial cells are dark green or dark brown, and its dorsal wall forms numerous sacculations called hepatic caeca. The intestinal wall lies in close contact with the body wall, so that the intestinal sacculations correspond with those of the body wall. The post-hepatic region of intestine is connected with the ventral body wall by the pygochord described earlier. It is a simple and straight tube bearing a pair of dorso-lateral grooves lined by tall epithelial cells with long cilia.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus


Posteriorly, the intestine opens to the exterior by a terminal circular aperture, the anus, at the tip of the trunk. It is often surrounded by a sphincter muscle.

Food, feeding and digestion

Balanoglossus is a ‘ciliary feeder’. Its food comprises of microscopic organisms and organic particles present in water and the bottom sand in which it makes its burrows. The lateral cilia lining the gill-slits set up a current of water which enters through the mouth, takes its course through the buccal cavity, pharynx, gill-slits and branchial sacs, and leaves through the gill pores. This is the respiratory-cum-food current. Some food particles directly enter the mouth with this current while some come in contact with the proboscis and get entangled in the mucus that covers it. The mucus is secreted by the gland cells of the proboscis epithelium.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus

Cilia covering the proboscis direct the mucous string, containing food particles, towards the pre-oral ciliary organ at the base of the proboscis. From here the mucous string is passed back into the mouth by the action of the proboscis cilia, aided by the main water current entering the mouth. Organic particles present in the sand are ingested directly along with the latter at the time of burrowing. The U-shaped pre-oral ciliary organ, at the base of proboscis stalk, tests the quality of food and water entering the mouth.

Undesirable substances are prevented from entering the mouth by the ventral part of the collarette, which does so by covering the mouth. Thus, the rejected particles, instead of entering the mouth, pass back over the collar. Backward movement of food through the alimentary canal is maintained by the cilia lining its walls. In the pharynx, the food moves through the ventral digestive portion. Digestion is brought about by enzymes secreted by gland cells of the pharynx, oesophagus and hepatic region of the intestine. The exact process of digestion in Balanoglossus is not known. Undigested substances, along with sand and silt, pass out through anus as castings.

Digestive system of Balanoglossus


In our exploration of Balanoglossus, we have ventured into the depths of marine biology, unraveling the intricacies of its digestive system. Through our journey, we have come to appreciate the remarkable adaptations and evolutionary significance embedded within this enigmatic creature.

The digestive system of Balanoglossus emerges as a central focal point, showcasing a series of remarkable features that highlight its unique place in the animal kingdom. From its characteristic pharyngeal gill slits to its innovative proboscis apparatus, Balanoglossus’ digestive anatomy serves as a testament to the ingenuity of nature’s designs.

As we reflect on the significance of Balanoglossus’ digestive system, we are reminded of its pivotal role in the organism’s survival and ecological niche. Its ability to efficiently process nutrients from marine sediments underscores its importance as a key player in marine ecosystems, contributing to nutrient cycling and ecosystem health.

Moreover, the study of Balanoglossus’ digestive system offers valuable insights into evolutionary biology and comparative anatomy. By elucidating the evolutionary relationships between Balanoglossus and other organisms, researchers can unravel the complexities of vertebrate origins and the emergence of key anatomical features.

In conclusion, the digestive system of Balanoglossus serves as a cornerstone of its biology, weaving together a narrative of adaptation, innovation, and evolutionary heritage. As we continue to probe the mysteries of this captivating creature, we are certain to uncover new revelations that further illuminate the wondrous diversity of life on our planet.

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