Echinoderms are invertebrates that have pentaradial symmetry, a spiny skin, a water vascular system, and a simple nervous system.
- Describe the characteristics of echinodermata
- Echinoderms live exclusively in marine systems; they are widely divergent, with over 7,000 known species in the phylum.
- Echinoderms have pentaradial symmetry and a calcareous endoskeleton that may possess pigment cells that give them a wide range of colors, as well as cells that possess toxins.
- Echinoderms have a water vascular system composed of a central ring of canals that extend along each arm, through which water circulates for gaseous exchange and nutrition.
- Echinoderms have a very simple nervous system, comprised of a nerve ring at the center and five radial nerves extending outward along the arms; there is no structure resembling a brain.
- There are two sexes in echinoderms, which each release their eggs and sperm into the water; here, the sperm will fertilize the eggs.
- Echinoderms can reproduce asexually by regeneration.
- madreporite: a lightcolored calcerous opening used to filter water into the water vascular system of echinoderms
- podocyte: cells that filter the bodily fluids in echinoderms
- pentaradial symmetry: a variant of radial symmetry that arranges roughly equal parts around a central axis at orientations of 72° apart
- water vascular system: a hydraulic system used by echinoderms, such as sea stars and sea urchins, for locomotion, food and waste transportation, and respiration
- ampulla: the dilated end of a duct
Echinodermata are so named owing to their spiny skin (from the Greek “echinos” meaning “spiny” and “dermos” meaning “skin”). This phylum is a collection of about 7,000 described living species. Echinodermata are exclusively marine organisms. Sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, sand dollars, and brittle stars are all examples of echinoderms. To date, no freshwater or terrestrial echinoderms are known.
Morphology and Anatomy
Adult echinoderms exhibit pentaradial symmetry and have a calcareous endoskeleton made of ossicles, although the early larval stages of all echinoderms have bilateral symmetry. The endoskeleton is developed by epidermal cells and may possess pigment cells that give vivid colors to these animals, as well as cells laden with toxins. Echinoderms possess a simple digestive system which varies according to the animal’s diet. Starfish are mostly carnivorous and have a mouth, oesophagus, two-part pyloric stomach with a pyloric duct leading to the intestine and rectum, with the anus located in the center of the aboral body surface. In many species, the large cardiac stomach can be everted and digest food outside the body. Gonads are present in each arm. In echinoderms such as sea stars, every arm bears two rows of tube feet on the oral side which help in attachment to the substratum. These animals possess a true coelom that is modified into a unique circulatory system called a water vascular system. The more notably distinct trait, which most echinoderms have, is their remarkable powers of regeneration of tissue, organs, limbs, and, in some cases, complete regeneration from a single limb.
Water Vascular System
Echinoderms possess a unique ambulacral or water vascular system, consisting of a central ring canal and radial canals that extend along each arm. Water circulates through these structures and facilitates gaseous exchange as well as nutrition, predation, and locomotion. The water vascular system also projects from holes in the skeleton in the form of tube feet. These tube feet can expand or contract based on the volume of water (hydrostatic pressure) present in the system of that arm.
The madreporite is a light-colored, calcerous opening used to filter water into the water vascular system of echinoderms. Acting as a pressure-equalizing valve, it is visible as a small red or yellow button-like structure (similar to a small wart) on the aboral surface of the central disk of a sea star. Close up, it is visibly structured, resembling a “madrepore” colony. From this, it derives its name. Water enters the madreporite on the aboral side of the echinoderm. From there, it passes into the stone canal, which moves water into the ring canal. The ring canal connects the radial canals (there are five in a pentaradial animal), and the radial canals move water into the ampullae, which have tube feet through which the water moves. By moving water through the unique water vascular system, the echinoderm can move and force open mollusk shells during feeding.
Other Body Systems
The nervous system in these animals is a relatively simple structure with a nerve ring at the center and five radial nerves extending outward along the arms. Structures analogous to a brain or derived from fusion of ganglia are not present in these animals.
Podocytes, cells specialized for ultrafiltration of bodily fluids, are present near the center of echinoderms. These podocytes are connected by an internal system of canals to the madreporite.
Echinoderms are sexually dimorphic and release their eggs and sperm cells into water; fertilization is external. In some species, the larvae divide asexually and multiply before they reach sexual maturity. Echinoderms may also reproduce asexually, as well as regenerate body parts lost in trauma.