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Sea Squirts

Sea Squirts

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Cnidaria

Class: Anthozoa

Order: Ascidiacea

Common name(s):  Ascidians or Sea squirts

General Details

Ascidians are characterized by a tough outer "tunic" made of the polysaccharide tunicin, as compared to other tunicates which are less rigid. 

Ascidians are found all over the world, usually in shallow water with salinities over 2.5%. While members of the Thaliacea and Larvacea swim freely like plankton, sea squirts are sessile animals: they remain firmly attached to substratum, such as rocks and shells. 

There are 2,300 species of ascidians and three main types: solitary ascidians, social ascidians that form clumped communities by attaching at their bases, and compound ascidians that consist of many small individuals (each individual is called a zooid) forming colonies up to several meters in diameter.

Descriptive Details

Sea squirts are rounded or cylindrical animals ranging from about 0.5 to 10 centimeters (0.20 to 3.94 in) in size. One end of the body is always firmly fixed to rock, coral, or some similar solid surface. The lower surface is pitted or ridged, and in some species has root-like extensions that help the animal grip onto the surface. The body wall is covered by a smooth thick tunic, which is often quite rigid. The tunic consists of a cellulose-like substance called tunicin along with proteins and calcium salts. Unlike the shells of molluscs, the tunic is composed of living tissue, and often has its own blood supply. In some colonial species, the tunics of adjacent individuals are fused into a single structure. 

The upper surface of the animal, opposite to the part gripping the substratum, has two openings, or siphons. When removed from the water, the animal often violently expels water from these siphons, hence the common name of "sea squirt". The body itself can be divided into up to three regions, although these are not clearly distinct in most species. The pharyngeal region contains the pharynx, while the abdomen contains most of the other bodily organs, and the postabdomen contains the heart and gonads. In many sea squirts, the postabdomen, or even the entire abdomen, are absent, with their respective organs being located more anteriorly. 

As its name implies, the pharyngeal region is occupied mainly by the pharynx. The large buccal siphon opens into the pharynx, acting like a mouth. The pharynx itself is ciliated and contains numerous perforations, or stigmata, arranged in a grid-like pattern around its circumference. The beating of the cilia sucks water through the siphon, and then through the stigmata. A long ciliated groove, or endostyle, runs along one side of the pharynx, and a projecting ridge along the other. The endostyle may be homologous with the thyroid gland of vertebrates, despite its differing function. 

The pharynx is surrounded by an atrium, through which water is expelled through a second, usually smaller, siphon. Cords of connective tissue cross the atrium to maintain the general shape of the body. The outer body wall consists of connective tissue, muscle fibers, and a simple epithelium directly underlying the tunic.

Circulatory system

The heart is a curved muscular tube lying in the postabdomen, or close to the stomach. Each end opens into a single vessel, one running to the endostyle, and the other to the dorsal surface of the pharynx. The vessels are connected by a series of sinuses, through which the blood flows. Additional sinuses run from that on the dorsal surface, supplying blood to the visceral organs, and smaller vessels commonly run from both sides into the tunic. Nitrogenous waste, in the form of ammonia, is excreted directly from the blood through the walls of the pharynx, and expelled through the atrial siphon. 

Unusually, the heart of sea squirts alternates the direction in which it pumps blood every three to four minutes. There are two excitatory areas, one at each end of the heart, with first one being dominant, to push the blood through the ventral vessel, and then the other, pushing it dorsally.

Colonial species

Colonial ascidians reproduce both asexually and sexually. Colonies can survive for decades. An ascidian colony consists of individual elements called zooids. Zooids within a colony are usually genetically identical and some have a shared circulation.

Data provided by:

Wikipedia / Accessed December 201

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