"Starfish have five arms; sand dollars have five radial food grooves on their undersides--this arrangement of five elements radiating from a center point ('pentaradial symmetry') is widespread among the echinoderms but unknown elsewhere in nature…Early echinoderms were covered with a skeleton made up of discrete plates of calcium carbonate. Now one can pave a floor with triangles, squares, or hexagons, but using pentagons alone inevitably leaves gaps. One can't make an array of squares close on itself to form a hollow solid unless at eight special locations the apices of three rather than four squares touch, a distinct complication. And one can't make any array solely of hexagons close on itself at all. Conversely one can get a closed, space-enclosing structure from triangles (tetrahedrons are the simplest, but others such as twenty-sided icosahedrons are possible) and pentagons (the simplest being the twelve-sided dodecahedron). Among the pentagons (fig. 4.13) hexagons can be intercalated practically without limit, but twelve basic pentagons must remain. In the most symmetrical arrangement, these pentagons are in six pairs with members of a pair at the opposite extremities of the solid. If we run an axis between members of one pair, the ten other pentagons then arrange themselves in two nearly equatorial rings. If enough hexagons are intercalated, these can form the key elements of five arms. And a look at any book treating the paleontology of echinoderms reveals a host of hexagonal plates. Perhaps a pentaradial symmetry is, in fact, a 'natural' or easy way to organize a radially symmetrical creature built of a shell of little solid elements!" (Vogel 2003:87-88) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats Specimen Records:33070 Specimens with Sequences:25739 Specimens with Barcodes:23990 Species:2225 Species With Barcodes:1827 Public Records:18687 Public Species:1162 Public BINs:1711
Larvae range from a few millimeters to a few decimeters, while adults can range from less than 1 cm to 2 m. While adult forms are radially symmetrical, larval forms are always bilateral. The radial symmetry is secondarily derived. The pentaradial form, whether it has arms or not, has a central disc.
An internal skeleton is present throughout members of the phylum. Ossicles, which make up the skeleton, are below an outer dermal layer. The skeletal and muscular arrangement varies among groups.
Pedicellariae produced by the skeleton, are pincer-like structures. Found mainly in echinoids and asteroids, their function is debatable. They may be used to capture prey, clean, or hold items to disguise from predators.
Echinoderms have a water vascular system consisting of a network of radial canals, which extend through each of the five extensions (arms or rays) of the animal. Each canal has a lateral connection which leads to a tube foot, which may be composed of three parts. Internally is the ampulla and externally is the podia. At the end of the podia is usually a sucker.
Grooves with rows of podia extending from the mouth are called the ambiculacra . Between each ambiculacra is the interambulacrum. For groups of animals with "arms" (sea stars, for example), the interambulacrum is just the space between the ambiculacra. For other animals without furrows (sea cucumbers, for example), the areas are like the ambiculacra, but usually lack holes for the tube feet.
The water vasuclar system opening, called a madreporite, lies on a particular interambulacrum. Letters are used to describe parts of echinoderms. The ambulacrum opposite the madreporite is section A. Moving clockwise, other parts are coded B through E. Sections C and D are termed the bivium while all the others are collectively termed the trivium. Interambulacrum sections are named using the letters of the ambulacra sections they are between (e. g. AB).
The European edible sea urchin, Echinus esculentus, is listed as endangered by the IUCN. Isostichopus fuscus, a holothurian, is listed by CITES. It occurs on the coasts of Ecuador, Galapagos, Mexico and Peru.
UNEP-WCMC, 2005. "Isostichopus fuscus" (On-line). UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES-Listed Species. Accessed January 21, 2005 at http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html.
World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2004. "Echinus esculentus" (On-line). 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed January 21, 2005 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php?species=7011.