Chordata , phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates arevertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marineinvertebrate animals. The four features unique to chordates and found in all of them atleast during early development are: the notochord, composed of gelatinous tissue andbound by a tough membrane; a tubular nerve cord (or spinal cord), located above thenotochord; and gill slits leading into the pharynx, or anterior part of the digestive tract (thethroat, in higher vertebrates). All have a post anal tail, that is, an extension beyond theanus of the notochord or backbone and of the body-wall musculature, containing nointernal organs. In addition, all have blood contained in vessels, and the tunicates andvertebrates have a ventrally located heart.