Coelenterata are tubelike primitive forms with a continuous body wall surrounding a simple digestive cavity with but one opening encircled by tentacles used in capturing food. The group shows a remarkable degree of polymorphism; that is, a single species may present a variety of forms reducible either to the sessile polyp or the swimming medusoid type.
Class Hydrozoa. To this class belong the hydroids commonly found growing in little tufts on rocks and sea weeds along the coast. From these branching polyps are budded the small jellyfish or medusae such as Obelia (fig. 79). The Siphonophora, an order of this class, are characteristic of the open sea and are represented by the beautiful blue Velella (“by-the-wind sailer”) (fig. 226b) and Physalia (the “Portuguese man-of-war”), neither of which possesses a sessile stage. They are planktonic colonial medusae, exhibiting the maximum development of polymorphism of all animals. There are about 2700 species of hydrozoa.
Class Scyphozoa. To this class belong the larger medusae with eight notches in the margin of the bell. Here are included the giant jellyfishes, some of which may become 2 m in diameter. A much-suppressed sessile polyp stage is present in the group. The 200 species are entirely marine. Examples: Aurelia, Cyanea.
Class Anthozoa. To this class belong the sea anemones, corals, and alcyonarians. There is no medusoid stage, and many of the polyps are colonial; some, especially the corals, are notable for their precipitation of calcareous skeletal structures, which, through long periods of accumulation, are important in the― 307 ―building up of coral reefs and similar formations. All 6100 known species of anthozoa are marine.