The Phylum urochordata are commonly known as sea squirts. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) described a simple ascidian and called it Tethym. The adults do not have notochord and the body is covered with the test containing branchial and atrial openings.
Tunicates inhabit sea from polar oceans to the tropics, mostly in shallow shore water, but some upto the depths of 5 km. Some are free living, others after a short free-life attach to rocks, shells, wharf piling or ship hulls. They vary in size from microscopic to a foot in diameter. Variously coloured forms are found. They have about 2000 species, of which 100 are pelagic. Reproduction is sexual and asexual. The group name refers to the self-secreted ‘tunic’ or sac-like covering over the body. The best known tunicates are sea squirts or ascidians.
DIAGNOSTIC CHARACTERS OF PHYLUM UROCHORDATA
- Typically short, thick-bodied, with a leathery covering called test or tunic.
- Notochord and nerve cord present only in larval tail.
- They are marine filter feeders with a water-filled, sac-like body structure and two tubular openings, known as siphons, through which they draw in and expel water.
- Most adult tunicates are sessile, immobile and permanently attached to rocks or other hard surfaces on the ocean floor; others, such as salps, larvaceans, doliolids and pyrosomes, swim in the pelagic zone of the sea as adults.