Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
A phylum of sedentary marine vermiform coelomates that are unsegmented, but possibly distantly related to the annelids; they are commonly called peanut worms. Two classes are defined: Sipunculidea and Phascolosomatidea. In all there are 17 genera and approximately 150 species living in a wide variety of oceanic habitats within the sediment or inside any protective shelter such as a discarded mollusk shell, foraminiferan test, or crevice in rock or coral.
Adult sipunculans range in trunk length from 2 to over 500 mm (0.08 to over 20 in.). The shape of the body ranges from almost spherical to a slender cylinder. Sipunculans have a variety of epidermal structures (papillae, hooks, or shields). Many species lack color, but shades of yellow or brown may be present. Internal anatomy is relatively simple. The digestive tract has a straight esophagus and a double-coiled intestine extending toward the posterior end of the body and back terminating in a rectum, sometimes bearing small cecum. A ventral nerve cord with lateral nerves and circumenteric connectives to the pair of cerebral ganglia are present. Two or four pigmented eyespots may be present on the cerebral ganglia, and a chemoreceptor (nuchal organ) is usually present.
Knowledge of the reproductive biology of sipunculans is scanty, and good information on breeding cycles is unavailable for most genera. Most sipunculans are dioecious and lack any sexual dimorphism. These worms play a part in the recycling of detritus and probably consume smaller invertebrates in the process. They are in turn preyed on by fishes and probably other predators (including humans).