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Comb jellies-mba.jpg
Comb jellies (Beroe spp.)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Eumetazoa
(unranked): Coelenterata


Coelenterata is an obsolete term encompassing two animal phyla, the Ctenophora (comb jellies) and the Cnidaria (coral animals, true jellies, sea anemones, sea pens, and their allies). The name comes from the Greek "koilos" ("hollow bellied"), referring to the hollow body cavity common to these two phyla. They have very simple tissue organization, with only two layers of cells, external and internal and radial symmetry. Some of the examples are corals, sea anemone which are colonial and hydra, jelly fish which are solitary.


All coelenterates are aquatic, mostly marine. The bodyform is radially symmetrical. The body has a single opening hypostome surrounded by sensory tentacles equipped with either nematocysts or collobasts to capture mostly planktonic prey. These tentacles surround a spacious cavity called the gastrovascular cavity or coelenteron. Digestion is both intracellular and extracellular. Respiration and excretion are accomplished by simple diffusion. A network of nerves is spread throughout the body. Many forms exhibit polymorphism, wherein different types of individuals are present in a colony for different functions. These individuals are called Zooids. These animals generally reproduce asexually by budding, though sexual reproduction does occur in some groups.

History of classification[edit]

The term coelenterate is not currently recognized as scientifically valid, as the Cnidaria and Ctenophora have less in common than previously assumed.[1] Any group containing the two but excluding other phyla would be paraphyletic. Nonetheless, the term coelenterate is still used in informal settings to refer to the Cnidaria and Ctenophora.

Complicating the issue is the 1997 work of Lynn Margulis (revising an earlier model by Thomas Cavalier-Smith) that placed the Cnidaria and Ctenophora alone in the branch Radiata within Eumetazoa.[2] (The latter refers to all the animals except the sponges, Trichoplax, and the still poorly understood Mesozoa.) Neither grouping is accepted universally;[3] however, both are commonly encountered in taxonomic literature.

The Coelenterata hypothesis has been more recently revived, based on molecular data, placing the Coelenterates as a monophyletic sister-group to the Bilateria.[4]


  1. ^ Excerpt from Britannica article regarding Ctenophore classification
  2. ^ Margulis, Lynn and Karlene V. Schwartz, 1997, Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, W.H. Freeman & Company, ISBN 0-613-92338-3
  3. ^ NCBI Taxonomy Browser
  4. ^ Phillipe, et al., 2009 Phylogenomics revives Traditional Views on Deep Animal Relationships Current Biology 19, 706–712