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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of echinoderms
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of chordates

The phyla Echinodermata and Chordata (the phylum in which humans are placed) both belong to the superphylum Deuterostomia. Recall that protostome and deuterostomes differ in certain aspects of their embryonic development, and they are named based on which opening of the digestive cavity develops first. The word deuterostome comes from the Greek word meaning “mouth second,” indicating that the anus is the first to develop. There are a series of other developmental characteristics that differ between protostomes and deuterostomes, including the mode of formation of the coelom and the early cell division of the embryo. In deuterostomes, internal pockets of the endodermal lining called the archenteron    fuse to form the coelom. The endodermal lining of the archenteron (or the primitive gut) forms membrane protrusions that bud off and become the mesodermal layer. These buds, known as coelomic pouches, fuse to form the coelomic cavity, as they eventually separate from the endodermal layer. The resultant coelom is termed an enterocoelom    . The archenteron develops into the alimentary canal, and a mouth opening is formed by invagination of ectoderm at the pole opposite the blastopore of the gastrula. The blastopore forms the anus of the alimentary system in the juvenile and adult forms. The fates of embryonic cells in deuterostomes can be altered if they are experimentally moved to a different location in the embryo due to indeterminant cleavage in early embryogenesis.

Phylum echinodermata

Echinodermata are so named owing to their spiny skin (from the Greek “echinos” meaning “spiny” and “dermos” meaning “skin”), and this phylum is a collection of about 7,000 described living species. Echinodermata    are exclusively marine organisms. Sea stars ( [link] ), 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, giving vivid colors to these animals, as well as cells laden with toxins. Gonads are present in each arm. In echinoderms like sea stars, every arm bears two rows of tube feet on the oral side. These tube feet 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    . An interesting feature of these animals is their power to regenerate, even when over 75 percent of their body mass is lost.

The illustration shows a sea star, which has a mouth on the bottom and an anus on top, both in the middle of the star. The disk-shaped stomach is sandwiched between the mouth and anus. Two tubes radiate from the stomach to each arm, and many small digestive glands connect to these tubes. Beneath the stomach is a central ring canal that also connects to tubes that extend into each arm. Tube feet are attached to these tubes. Each tube foot resembles a medicine dropper, with a bulb-shaped ampulla at the top and an extension called a podium at the bottom. The bottom of the podium protrudes from the bottom of the starfish. There are many podia along the length of the arm, which allow the sea star to latch onto objects and walk. A structure called a madreporite connects to the central ring, and protrudes from the upper surface of the sea star, next to the anus.
This diagram shows the anatomy of a sea star.

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 present in the system of that arm. By using hydrostatic pressure, the animal can either protrude or retract the tube feet. 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.

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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