Priapulida, penis worms

Priapulida characteristics

Bilaterally symmetrical
A large retractable head region, and spiny or scaly trunk
An alimentary system with mouth surrounded by spines or hooks
Larva enclosed in cuticular plates
A hydrostatic skeleton
A nervous system with ventral cord
Separate sexes and external fertilisation

Priapulida, Priapulus bicaudatus

At present only about 16 species of Priapula ( also known as penis worms) have been described, though fossil evidence dates back to the Cambrian.

Priapulida are up to 15cm long and are found in colder waters at a variety of depths from tidal to abyssal.

Their body cavity has a mesodermal lining, so they can be regarded as coelomate; however the lining is unlike that of other coelomates. The cuticular trunk is moulted periodically. Circular and longitudinal muscles exert the pressure required to evert the head region (see Priapulus bicaudatus above). The larvae move through the sediment using their head region as an anchor, but adults are rarely good burrowers.

They are predators feeding on slow-moving animals, especially worms.