Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

C. Burdon-Jones, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


The zooids of the extant members of the Class Pterobranchia Lankester, 1877, are small (about 0.5–7.0 mm long) and live in benthic sedentary colonies, produced by budding from a single sexually produced individual. The asexually produced colony or pseudo-colony has a protective coenoecium. This may take the form of a repent branching chambered and completely enclosed tube, open ended, erect tubes rising from each chamber and housing a single zooid, or a compact (Schepotieff 1907a, 1907b) cluster of individual tubes and zooids, or a sponge-like mass of anastomosing interconnecting tubes and tunnels shared by all the zooids and buds in the colony. The colony or pseudo-colony is usually attached to a solid surface. The coenoecia are secreted externally and are composed of a flexible, transparent to translucent, colourless to deep brownish red collagenous material secreted and moulded entirely by the proboscis and may incorporate shells of Foraminifera, sand grains, shell fragments or sponge spicules.

The genera and species are identified primarily by the form of the coenoecia in which they live (Lankester 1884; Allman 1869; Ridewood 1920; Norman 1921; Johnston & Muirhead 1951; Markham 1971). All are adapted to a tubiculous mode of life so the body is sac-like, the digestive tract U-shaped. The proboscis (buccal shield or cephalic shield) is flattened and discoid and ventrally directed covering the mouth; the collar bears one or more pairs of ciliated tentaculate arms. Ventrally, the trunk region is extended into a long contractile stalk which may or may not be attached to a repent stolon (Van der Horst 1939; Dawydoff 1948; Hyman 1959; Stebbing & Dilly 1972; Nishikawa 1986).

All pterobranchs are microphagous suspension feeders. The sexes are separate and recognisable when mature. Eggs and early larval stages remain within the parent coenoecium, and dispersal is by a short planktonic phase. The larvae are lecithotrophic and each one is capable of establishing a new colony (Van der Horst & Helmcke 1956; Burdon-Jones 1957; Stebbing 1970; Dilly 1985; Lester 1985, 1988a, 1988b; Halanych 1993).

Asexual reproduction by budding of new zooids is the dominant phase in the life cycle of all pterobranchs. Both sexual and asexual processes can take place simultaneously. There is some evidence of seasonality in both methods of reproduction, and several generations of zooids may occupy the same coenoecium. For further details on budding, settlement behaviour and establishment of new colonies, substrata preferences, associated fauna and geographic distribution, see Schepotieff (1907a, 1907b); Burdon-Jones (1954); Burdon-Jones & Tambs-Lyche (1960); Stebbing (1970); Dilly (1973); Dilly & Ryland (1985); Lester (1985, 1988a, 1988b).

The class contains two orders: Rhabdopleurida and Cephalodiscida, both with fossil and extant members.


General References

Allman, G.J. 1869. On Rhabdopleura, a new genus of Polyzoa. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science 9: 57-83 pl. 8

Burdon-Jones, C. 1954. The habitat and distribution of Rhabdopleura normani Allman. Universitetet i Bergen Arbok Naturvitenskapelig Rekke 11: 3-17

Burdon-Jones, C. 1957. The biology of Rhabdopleura normani Allman. Challenger Reports 3(ix): 22

Burdon-Jones, C. & Tambs-Lyche, A. 1960. Observations on the fauna of the north Brattholmen stone-coral reef near Bergen. Universitetet i Bergen Arbok Naturvitenskapelig Rekke 4: 1-24

Dawydoff, C. 1948. Classes des Ptérobranches. pp. 454-489 in Grassé, P.P. (ed.). Traité de Zoologie. Echinodermes, Stomocordés, Protochordés. Paris : Masson et Cie Vol. 11.

Dilly, P.N. 1973. The larva of Rhabdopleura compacta (Hemichordata). Marine Biology, Berlin 18: 69-86

Dilly, P.N. 1985. The habitat and behaviour of Cephalodiscus gracilis (Pterobranchia, Hemichordata) from Bermuda. Journal of Zoology, London A 207: 223-239

Dilly, P.N. & Ryland, J.S. 1985. An intertidal Rhabdopleura (Hemichordata, Pterobranchia) from Fiji. Journal of Zoology, London A 205: 611-623

Halanych, K.M. 1993. Suspension feeding by the lophophore-like apparatus of the Pterobranch. Biological Bulletin. Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole) 185: 417-427

Hyman, L.H. 1959. The Enterocoelous Coelomates—Phylum Hemichordata. Ch. 17. pp. 72–207 in, The Invertebrates. Smaller Coelomate Groups. New York : McGraw Hill.

Johnston, T.H. & Muirhead, N.G. 1951. Cephalodiscus. Report of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1928–31 B 1(3): 89-120-3 pls

Lankester, E.R. 1884. A contribution to the knowledge of Rhabdopleura. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science 24: 622-647

Lester, S.M. 1985. Cephalodiscus sp. (Hemichordata, Pterobranchia) observations of functional morphology, behaviour and occurrence in shallow water around Bermuda. Marine Biology, Berlin 85: 263-268

Lester, S.M. 1988a. Ultrastructure of adult gonads, and development and structure of the larva of Rhabdopleura normani (Hemichordata: Pterobranchia). Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 69: 95-109

Lester, S.M. 1988b. Settlement and metamorphosis of Rhabdopleura normani (Hemichordata: Pterobranchia). Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 69(2): 111-120

Markham, J.C. 1971. The species of Cephalodiscus collected during operation Deep Freeze, 1956–1959. Biology of the Antarctic Seas. Antarctic Research Series 17: 83-110

Nishikawa, T. 1986. Hemichordata pp. 1–110 in, Systematic Zoology (Dobutsu Keitobunruigaku). Vol. 8(3). Tokyo : Nakayama Shoten.

Norman, J.R. 1921. Rhabdopleura. British Antarctic 'Terra Nova' Expedition. Zoology 4(4): 95-102

Ridewood, W.G. 1920. A key for identifying the species of Cephalodiscus. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 9 5: 407-410

Schepotieff, A. 1907a. Die Pterobranchier. Zoologische Jahrbucher. Abteilung für Anatomie 23: 463-534

Schepotieff, A. 1907b. Die Pterobranchier. 1 Tiel. Rhabdopleura Allman. 2. Abschmitt. Knospungs prozens und Gehause von Rhabdopleura. Zoologische Jahrbucher. Abteilung für Anatomie 24: 193-238

Stebbing, A.R.D. 1970. The status and ecology of Rhabdopleura compacta (Hemichordata) from Plymouth. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 50: 209-221

Stebbing, A.R.D. & Dilly, P.N. 1972. Some observations on living Rhabdopleura compacta (Hemichordata). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 52(2): 443-448

Van der Horst, C.J. 1939. Hemichordata. pp. 1-737 in Bronn, H.G. (ed.). Die Klassen und Ordnungen des Tier-Reichs. Leipzig : Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft M.B.H. Vol. 4(2). [published 1927–1939]

Van der Horst, C.J. & Helmcke, J.G. 1956. Cephalodiscidae. Vol.3(2,8). pp. 33-66-50 figs in Kükenthal, W. & Krumbach, T. (eds). Handbuch der Zoologie. Berlin : Walter de Gruyter & Co.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
12-Feb-2010 (import)