Leptocephalus energetics: Metabolism and excretion

Renee E. Bishop-Pierce, J. J. Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Leptocephali are the unusual transparent larvae that are typical of eels, bonefish, tarpon and ladyfish. Unlike the larvae of all other fishes, leptocephali may remain in the plankton as larvae for several months before metamorphosing into the juvenile form. During their planktonic phase, leptocephali accumulate energy reserves in the form of glycosaminoglycans, which are then expended to fuel metamorphosis. The leptocephalus developmental strategy is thus fundamentally different from that exhibited in all other fishes in two respects: it is far longer in duration and energy reserves are accumulated. It was anticipated that the unusual character of leptocephalus development would be reflected in the energy budget of the larva. This study describes the allocation of energy to metabolism and excretion, two important elements of the energy budget. Metabolic rates were measured directly in four species of leptocephali, Paraconger caudilimbatus, Ariosoma balearicum, Gymnothorax saxicola and Ophichthus gomesii, using sealed-jar respirometry at sea. Direct measurements of metabolic rates were corroborated by measuring activities of lactate dehydrogenase and citrate synthase, two key enzymes of intermediary metabolism, in addition to that of Na+/K+-ATPase, a ubiquitous ion pump important in osmotic regulation. Excretion rates were determined by subsampling the sea water used in the respiratory incubations. The entire premetamorphic size range for each species was used in all assays. Mass-specific oxygen consumption rate, excretion rate and all enzyme activities (y) declined precipitously with increasing mass (M) according to the equation y=aMb, where a is a species-specific constant and -1.74<b<-0.44. In leptocephali, the highly negative slope of the familiar allometric equation describing the relationship between mass-specific metabolic rate and mass, normally between -0.33 and 0, showed that a massive decline in metabolic rate occurs with increasing size. The result suggests that the proportion of actively metabolizing tissue also declines with size, being replaced in large measure by the metabolically inert energy depot, the glycosaminoglycans. Leptocephali can thus grow to a large size with minimal metabolic penalty, which is an unusual and successful developmental strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2485-2493
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Leptocephalus energetics: Metabolism and excretion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this