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The Phylum Cnidaria

Etymology:- From the Greek knide for nettle.

Characteristics of Cnidaria:-
1)Radially Symmetrical.
2)Body multicellular, few tissues, some organelles.
3)Body contains an internal cavity and a mouth.
4)Two different forms exist, medusa and polyp
5)Reproduction is asexual or sexual.
6)Has a simple net like nervous system.
7)Has a distinct larval stage which is planktonic.
8)Lives in aquatic environments, mostly marine.
9)Mostly carnivorous otherwise filter feeders.
10)May have a minimal skeleton of chiton or calcium carbonate.
The Cnidaria (pronounced nidaria)as a group of animals are well known to many people under their common names,
Sea Anemones, Corals and Jellyfish are all Cnidarians as are Hydras, Sea Whips, Sea Fans and Sea Pansies. They
are linked together by their carnivorous feeding habits their simple anatomical design and the possession of
nematocysts, though one species of Ctenophora possesses nematocysts as well.
The name Cnidaria has now pretty much replaced the older term of Coelenterata (pronounced selenterata) which
these days is often applied to both the Cnidaria and the Ctenophora together, these two phyla are also known as the
Radiate Animals because they both have radial or biradial symmetry. The word Cnidaria refers to Cnidocysts,
specialised cells which contain the Nematocysts, the stinging organelles that allow the Cnidaria to subdue their prey.
The Cnidaria are the oldest of the true metazoan phyla. A fossil Hydrozoan from South Australia called Ediacara is
700 million years old, while numerous fossil Cnidarians exist from the Cambrian 500 million years ago. The
Cnidarians, particularly the corals often make up an important component of the shallow marine fauna of tropical
and subtropical seas. All the Cnidaria are aquatic and nearly all are marine. Corals because of their shallow marine
environment and their habit of accumulating a mineralised skeleton (coralite) tend to fossilize well and we know
quite a bit about their evolution.
One of the most important distinguishing characteristics of the phylum are the Nematocysts. Nematocysts, and their
enclosing Cnidocysts come in about 24 different forms, the differences play a functional role in the classification of
the phylum. A Cnidocyst is a cell that secretes a nematocyst within it. A basic Nematocyst is a capsule made of
something like chitin within which rest a coiled thread. This thread can be shot out of the capsule to encounter prey
items, or in some cases to repel predators. The Cnidocyst has either a modified flagellum called a Cnidocil, or a cone
as a sensory trigger. If this trigger is touched the nematocyst thread is rapidly ejected. Nematocyst threads come in 3
basic types. The fundamental nematocyst is a thin tubular thread with barbs at the far end, though there may be
barbs near the base as well. When the nematocyst is discharged, the barbs penetrate the skin of the prey and a toxin
can be injected. Ptychocysts are uncommon, occurring only in the Ceriantharians, they lack spines or barbs but are
adhesive and can be used to line the tubes the Ceriantharians live in as well as to entangle prey. Spirocysts also lack
barbs or spines, they are an enclosed tube that is adhesive, they are used to trap prey in a tangled net of sticky
The Cnidaria come in two basic forms, a 'Polyp' form typified by the Sea Anemones and a 'Medusa' form typified by
Jellyfish. Generally speaking Polyps are tube shaped and sedentary with a ring of tentacles around the mouth,
Medusae are umbrella or bell shaped, free living and have a central projection on the inside of the umbrella which
supports the mouth and their tentacles around the rim of the umbrella.
The Cnidarians are either carnivores or omnivorous filter feeders.The the carnivorous forms do not hunt their prey,
instead they use various 'sit and trap' or 'float/swim and trap' strategies, using their Nematocysts, which are not only
found on the stinging tentacles but can be all over the animals body, to stun and or kill their prey. There are about 10,
000 species of Cnidarians divided between 3 classes Hydrozoa, Scyphozoa and Anthozoa.
Class Life Style Form Habitat Genera
Solitary or colonial,
sessile as adult
Sexual polyps and asexual
medusa either of which may be
Freshwater and
Hydra, Obelia, Physalia,
Solitary, nearly all
free swimming
Sexual medusa with a reduced
or absent polyp
Marine only
Aurelia, Cassiopeia,
Chironex, Rhizostoma
Solitary or colonial
sessile as adult
Polyp only Marine only
Adamsia, Cerianthus,
Gorgonia, Renilla