Adipose fins are positioned between the dorsal and caudal fins of many teleost fishes and primitively lack skeleton. In at least four lineages, adipose fins have evolved lepidotrichia (bony fin rays), co-opting the developmental programme for the dermal skeleton of other fins into this new territory. Here I provide, to my knowledge, the first description of lepidotrichia development in an adipose fin, characterizing the ontogeny of the redtail catfish, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus. Development of these fin rays differs from canonical lepidotrich development in the following four ways: skeleton begins developing in adults, not in larvae; rays begin developing at the fin's distal tip, not proximally; the order in which rays ossify is variable, not fixed; and lepidotrichia appear to grow both proximally and distally, not exclusively proximodistally. Lepidotrichia are oftenwavy, of irregular thickness and exhibit no regular pattern of segmentation or branching. This skeleton is among the most variable observed in a vertebrate appendage, offering a unique opportunity to explore the basis of hypervariation, which is generally assumed to reflect an absence of function. I argue that this variation reflects a lack of canalization as compared with other, more ancient lepidotrichs and suggest developmental context can affect the morphology of serial homologues.
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