Portal:Carboniferous/Natural world articles/11

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Tabulate coral Boone Limestone (Lower Carboniferous) near Hiwasse, Arkansas.

Cnidaria is a phylum of animals found exclusively in aquatic and mostly marine environments. Their distinguishing feature is cnidocytes, specialized cells that they use mainly for capturing prey. Their bodies consist of mesoglea, a non-living jelly-like substance, sandwiched between two layers of epithelium. They have two basic body forms: swimming medusae and sessile polyps, both of which are radially symmetrical with mouths surrounded by tentacles that bear cnidocytes. Many cnidarian species produce colonies that are single organisms composed of medusa-like or polyp-like zooids. Cnidarians' activities are coordinated by a decentralized nerve net. Many cnidarians have complex lifecycles with asexual polyp stages and sexual medusae, but some omit either the polyp or the medusa stage. Cnidarians are classified into four main groups: the almost wholly sessile Anthozoa (sea anemones, corals, sea pens); swimming Scyphozoa (jellyfish); Cubozoa (box jellies); and Hydrozoa, a diverse group that includes all the freshwater cnidarians as well as many marine forms.

Fossil cnidarians have been found in rocks formed about 580 million years ago, and other fossils show that corals may have been present shortly before 490 million years ago and diversified a few million years later. Fossils of cnidarians that do not build mineralized structures are very rare. Scientists currently think that cnidarians, ctenophores and bilaterians are more closely related to calcareous sponges than these are to other sponges, and that anthozoans are the evolutionary "aunts" or "sisters" of other cnidarians, and the most closely related to bilaterians. (see more...)