The Eyes Are a Gateway to Evolution…of Daddy Longlegs At Least

Under a microscope, the head of a daddy longlegs glows magenta where its modern-day eyes form. Opsins shown in green indicate that two additional sets of vestigial eyes existed in an earlier stage of the animal’s evolution. (Photo: Guilherme Gainett).
While some people may first associate daddy longlegs with, well, their long legs, researchers Guilherme Gainett, PhD, and Prashant Sharma, PhD, of the Department of Integrative Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues have been especially focused on the arachnids’ eyes. In their paper published February 23, 2024 in Current Biology, the researchers found that a living species of daddy longlegs has two additional sets of underdeveloped eyes as embryos, implying that the species diversified earlier in the evolutionary tree than scientists believed. The article is titled “Vestigial Organs Alter Fossil Placements in an Ancient Group of Terrestrial Chelicerates.” The clue to this unexpected discovery lay hidden under the microscope, beside the developing legs of a daddy longlegs.
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