Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25, 2010 : Comb Jelly

Comb Jelly

The Ctenophora (pronounced /tɨˈnɒfərə/, singular ctenophore, pronounced /ˈtɛnəfɔər/ or /ˈtiːnəfɔər/), (from the Greek ctena/χτένα (comb), phero/φέρω (carry) commonly known as comb jellies, are a phylum of animals that live in marine waters worldwide. Their most distinctive feature is the "combs", groups of cilia that they use for swimming, and they are the largest animals that swim by means of cilia — adults of various species range from a few millimeters to 1.5 meters (59 in) in size. Like cnidarians, their bodies consist of a mass of jelly with one layer of cells on the outside and another lining the internal cavity. In ctenophores these layers are two cells deep while those in cnidarians are only one cell deep. Ctenophores also resemble cnidarians in having a decentralized nerve net rather than a brain. Some authors combined ctenophores and cnidarians in one phylum, Coelenterata, as both groups rely on water flow through the body cavity for both digestion and respiration. Increasing awareness of the differences persuaded more recent authors to classify them in separate phyla.

Almost all ctenophores are predators, taking prey ranging from microscopic larvae and rotifers to the adults of small crustaceans; the exceptions are juveniles of two species, which live as parasites on the salps on which adults of their species feed. In favorable circumstances ctenophores can eat ten times their own weight in a day. There are only 100–150 valid species and possibly another 25 that have not been fully described and named. The textbook examples are cydippids with egg-shaped bodies and a pair of retractable tentacles fringed with tentilla ("little tentacles") that are covered with colloblasts, sticky cells that capture prey. The phylum has a wide range of body forms, including the flattened deep-sea platyctenids, in which the adults of most species lack combs, and the coastal beroids, which lack tentacles and prey on other ctenophores by using huge mouths armed with groups of large, stiffened cilia that act as teeth. These variations enable different species to build huge populations in the same area, because they specialize in different types of prey, which they capture by as wide a range of methods as spiders use.

Despite their soft, gelatinous bodies, fossils thought to represent ctenophores, apparently with no tentacles but many more comb-rows than modern forms, have been found in lagerstätten as far back as the early Cambrian, about 525 million years ago. The position of the ctenophores in the evolutionary family tree of animals has long been debated, and the majority view at present, based on molecular phylogenetics, is that cnidarians and bilaterians are more closely related to each other than either is to ctenophores. A recent molecular phylogenetics analysis concluded that the common ancestor of all modern ctenophores was cydippid-like, and that all the modern groups appeared relatively recently, probably after the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction 65.5 million years ago. Evidence accumulating since the 1980s indicates that the "cydippids" are not monophyletic, in other words do not include all and only the descendants of a single common ancestor, because all the other traditional ctenophore groups are descendants of various cydippids.

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