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Phoronida(fərŏn`ədə), small phylum of slender, wormlike marine tube-dwellers, typically found in temperate, shallow seas. About 10 species are known. Although the body is free in the tube, the organisms extend only a crown of ciliated tentacles (the lophophore) to capture food. Water currents generated by the lophophore cilia sweep food particles against mucus secreted at the base of the tentacles and ciliated grooves propel the food to the mouth. Phoronids have a U-shaped digestive tract, a blood-vascular system containing hemoglobin, and excretory organs called metanephridia. The coelom, or body cavity, is divided into compartments resembling those seen in the Ectoprocta and the Brachiopoda, which are phyla related to the Phoronida; the compartments also resemble those of the Echinodermata. Phoronids are ancient, and some zoologists have suggested they are the ancestors of the brachiopods because of similarities in embryology. Tubes seen in early paleozoic sandstones appear to be identical with modern phoronid tubes, but little is known of their history.
A small, relatively homogeneous group of animals now generally considered to constitute a separate animal phylum. Two genera, Phoronis and Phoronopsis, and about 16 species are recognized.
Phoronids may occur in vertical tubes placed just below the surface in intertidal or subtidal mud flats, or as feltlike masses of intertwined tubes attached to rocks, pilings, or old logs in shallow water. In both cases the tubes, composed basically of a secreted, parchmentlike material, are encrusted with small particles of sand or shell. A third living habit concerns those phoronids found inside channels, probably self-made, in limestone rock or the shells of dead pelecypod mollusks.
The geographical distribution of phoronids appears to be worldwide in temperate and tropical seas. There are no records of phoronids from the polar regions.
The body is more or less elongate, ranging in length from about 1.6 to 8 in. (4 to 20 cm), and bears a crown of tentacles arranged in a double row surrounding the mouth which is usually crescent-shaped (see illustration). The anus occurs at the level of the mouth and is borne on a papilla immediately outside the double row of tentacles. The digestive tract is therefore U-shaped, the mouth and anus opening close together at one end of the animal. The tentacles rest on a connective tissue base known as the lophophore. Associated with the mouth is a ciliated flap of tissue known as the epistome. See Lophophore
The phylum includes both dioecious animals and hermaphrodites. All phoronids may reproduce sexually, and in most cases the life history includes the pelagic actinotroch larva. Some species reproduce asexually by transverse fission.