Sea anemone

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Sea anemone
Sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Subclass: Hexacorallia
Order: Actiniaria
46 families


File:Haeckel Actiniae.jpg
The 49th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904, showing various sea anemones classified as Actiniae

Sea anemones are a group of water dwelling, predatory animals of the order Actiniaria; they are named after the anemone, a terrestrial flower. As cnidarians, sea anemones are closely related to corals, jellyfish, tube-dwelling anemones and Hydra.


Sea anemones engaged in clone war

A sea anemone is a small sac, attached to the bottom by an adhesive foot, with a column shaped body ending in an oral disc. The mouth is in the middle of the oral disc, surrounded by tentacles armed with many cnidocytes, which are cells that function as a defense and as a means to capture prey. Cnidocytes contain cnidae, capsule-like organelles capable of everting, giving phylum Cnidaria its name [1]. The cnidae that sting are called nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a small vesicle filled with toxins—actinoporins—an inner filament and an external sensory hair. When the hair is touched, it mechanically triggers the cell explosion, a harpoon-like structure which attaches to organisms that trigger it, and injects a dose of poison in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling.

The poison is a mix of toxins, including neurotoxins, which paralyze and capture the prey, which is then moved by the tentacles to the mouth/anus for digestion inside the gastrovascular cavity. Actinoporins have been reported as highly toxic to fish and crustaceans, which may be the natural prey of sea anemones. In addition to their role in predation, it has been suggested that actinoporins could act, when released in water, as repellents against potential predators. Clownfish are immune to an anemone's sting.

The internal anatomy of anemones is simple. There is a gastrovascular cavity (which functions as a stomach) with a single opening to the outside which functions as both a mouth and an anus: waste and undigested matter is excreted through the mouth/anus. A primitive nervous system, without centralization, coordinates the processes involved in maintaining homeostasis as well as biochemical and physical responses to various stimuli. Anemones range in size from less than 1¼ cm (½ in) to nearly 2 m (6 ft) in diameter.[citation needed] They can have a range of 10 tentacles to hundreds.

The muscles and nerves in anemones are much simpler than those of other animals. Cells in the outer layer (epidermis) and the inner layer (gastrodermis) have microfilaments grouped together into contractile fibers. These are not true muscles because they are not freely suspended in the body cavity as they are in more developed animals. Since the anemone lacks a skeleton, the contractile cells pull against the gastrovascular cavity, which acts as a hydrostatic skeleton. The stability for this hydrostatic skeleton is caused by the anemone shutting its mouth, which keeps the gastrovascular cavity at a constant volume, making it more rigid.

Life cycle

File:Sea anemone clones.jpg
Hundreds of anemones at low tide. They all are clones
File:Picture10 062a.jpg
Sea anemone in process of cloning

Unlike other cnidarians, anemones (and other anthozoans) entirely lack the free-swimming medusa stage of the life cycle: the polyp produces eggs and sperm, and the fertilized egg develops into a planula that develops directly into another polyp.

A few anemones are parasitic to marine organisms. Anemones tend to stay in the same spot until conditions become unsuitable (prolonged dryness, for example), or a predator is attacking them. In the case of an attack, anemones can release themselves from the substrate and swim away to a new location using flexing motions.

The sexes in sea anemones are separate for some species while some are hermaphroditic. Both sexual and asexual reproduction may occur. In sexual reproduction males release sperm which stimulates females to release eggs, and fertilization occurs. The eggs or sperm are ejected through the mouth. The fertilized egg develops into a planula, which finally settles down and grows into a single anemone. They can also reproduce asexually by budding, binary fission, which involves pulling apart into two halves, and pedal laceration, in which small pieces of the pedal disc break off and regenerate into small anemones.


File:Common clownfish.jpg
Common (Ocellaris) clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) in their Magnificent sea anemone (Heteractis magnifica) home
Consuming a jellyfish.

The sea anemone has a foot which in most species attaches itself to rocks or anchors in the sand. Some species attach to kelp and others are free-swimming. Although not plants and therefore incapable of photosynthesis themselves, many sea anemones form an important facultative symbiotic relationship with certain single-celled green algae species which reside in the animals' gastrodermal cells. These algae may be either zooxanthellae, zoochlorellae or both. The sea anemone benefits from the products of the algae's photosynthesis, namely oxygen and food in the form of glycerol, glucose and alanine; the algae in turn are assured a reliable exposure to sunlight and protection from micro-feeders, which the anemones actively maintain. The algae also benefit by being protected due to the presence of stinging cells called nematacysts, reducing the likelihood of being eaten by herbivores. Most species inhabit tropical reefs, although there are species adapted to relatively cold waters, intertidal reefs, and sand/kelp environments.

File:Anemone Crab.JPG
A porcelain crab living with an anemone, probably Entamacea quadricolor


Template:Inappropriate tone Marine aquarists with reef aquariums often seek to acquire anemone and clownfish for their home aquarium. To fulfill the demand, suppliers harvest anemones directly from coral reefs. Anemones reproduce extremely slowly, and are unlikely to replenish themselves in the regions where they have been over-harvested. Their removal can also negatively impact any creatures which share a symbiotic relationship with it, such as clownfish, anemone shrimp, and anemone crabs. For those aquarists who simply desire clownfish, it should be noted that clownfish can live in captivity without anemones. [2]

Fossil record

Most Actiniaria do not form hard parts that can be recognized as fossils but a few fossils do exist; Mackenzia, from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of Canada, is the oldest fossil identified as a sea anemone.



  1. Campbell N. & J. Reece (2002). Biology (6th ed ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Education.
  2. Shimek, R. (2004), p. 83. Marine Invertebrates. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune City, NJ.

External links


da:Søanemone de:Seeanemonen eo:Maranemono io:Aktinio it:Actiniaria he:שושנות ים ka:აქტინიები lv:Jūras anemones hu:Tengeri anemona nl:Zeeanemonen simple:Sea anemone sk:Sasanky sr:Морска саса fi:Merivuokot sv:Anemoner th:ดอกไม้ทะเล uk:Актинії

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