A postanal tail is a major synapomorphy of the phylum Chordata, which is composed of three subphyla: Vertebrata, Cephalochordata, and Tunicata (Urochordata). Among tunicates, appendicularians are the only group that retains the tail in the adult, and the adult tail functions in locomotion and feeding in combination with a cellulose-based house structure. Given the phylogenetic position of tunicates, the appendicularian adult tail may possess ancestral features of the chordate tail. We assess the ultrastructural development of the tail epidermis of the appendicularian Oikopleura dioica. The epidermis of the larval tail is enclosed by the larval envelope, which is a thin sheet similar to the outer tunic layer of ascidian larvae. The epidermis of the adult tail seems to bear no tunic-like cellulosic integuments, and the tail fin is a simple folding of the epidermis. Every epidermal cell, except for the triangular cells at the edge of the tail fin, has a conspicuous matrix layer of fibrous content in the apical cytoplasm without enclosing membranes. The epidermis of the larval tail does not have a fibrous matrix layer, suggesting the production of the layer during larval development and metamorphosis. Zonulae adhaerentes firmly bind the epidermal cells of the adult tail to one another, and the dense microfilaments lining the cell borders constitute a mechanical support for the cell membranes. The intracellular matrix, cell junctions, and cytoskeletons probably make the tail epidermis a tough, flexible shell supporting the active beating of the oikopleuran adult tail.
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