Pawson, David L Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Campbell, Andrew C. Department of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary College, University of London, London, United Kingdom.
Moore, Raymond C. Formerly, Department of Geology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
Sepkoski, J. John, Jr. Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Last reviewed:December 2019
- Body wall
- Sensory and neuromuscular system
- Alimentary system
- Reproductive system
- Water-vascular system
- Ecology and Feeding
- Classification and Description
- Origin and Phylogeny
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A phylum of exclusively marine animals with a peculiar body architecture dominated by a five-part radial symmetry. Echinodermata [from the Latin echinus (spine) + dermis (skin: “spiny skins”)] include the sea stars, sea urchins and related animals. The body wall contains an endoskeleton of numerous plates (ossicles) composed of calcium carbonate in the form of calcite and frequently supporting spines. The plates may be tightly interlocked or loosely associated. The spines may protrude through the outer epithelium and are often used for defense. The skeletal plates of the body wall, together with their closely associated connective tissues and muscles, form a tough and sometimes rigid test (hard shell), which encloses the large coelom. A unique water-vascular system is involved in locomotion, respiration, food gathering and sensory perception. This system is evident outside the body as five rows of fluid-filled tube feet. Within the body wall lie the ducts and fluid reservoirs necessary to protract and retract the tube feet by hydrostatic pressure. The nervous system of these headless animals arises from the embryonic ectoderm and consists of a ring around the mouth with connecting nerve cords associated with the rows of tube feet. There may also be diffuse nerve plexuses, with light-sensing organs, lying below the outer epithelium. The coelom houses the alimentary canal and associated organs and, in most groups, the reproductive organs. The body may be essentially star-shaped or globoid. The five rows of tube feet define areas known as ambulacra, ambs, or radii; areas of the body between the rows of tube feet are interambulacra, interambs, or interradii.
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