Animal World

Animal Characteristics and Activities

What are the three major groups of chordates?

The chordates are divided into three subphyla: Tunicata, Cephalochordata, and Vertebrata. Tunicates are like little leathery bags that are either free living or attach to pilings, rocks, and seaweeds. They are also called sea squirts because a disturbed animal may contract and shoot streams of water from both of its siphons.

The subphylum Cephalochordata contains the amphioxus or lancelet (Branchiostoma), which looks like a small fish and has the three chordate features as an adult. Amphioxus also shows clear serial segmentation or metamerism (from the Greek terms meta, meaning “between, among, after,” and meros, meaning “part”). It is divided lengthwise into a series of muscle segments. Vertebrates, which comprise the third chordate subphylum, retain the same metamerism in internal structures.


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