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(also stinging cell, nettling cell), a unique cell in the ectoderm and endoderm of most coelenterates (with the exception of ctenophorans) whose function is to attack prey and protect against enemies. A nematocyst contains a thin-walled capsule whose cavity contains a spirally coiled thread. The nucleus is situated at the base of the cell. A nematocyst has a sensory extension called a cnidocil projecting from the surface. When stimulated chemically or mechanically, the cnidocil forcefully ejects a straight, untwisted thread into the prey’s body. The sting kills small animals and sometimes causes painful burns and even death in large animals. A nematocyst can be used only once, after which it is discarded and replaced by a new one formed with specialized cells.