The Hydrozoa include solitary or colonial cnidarians, which have a noncellular mesoglea, lack tentacles within the gastrovascular cavity, and have no gullet. As a rule, the hydroid stage predominates in the life cycle, although in some the jellyfish stage is larger. The order Hydroida includes the many small, colonial hydroids so often seen clinging to wharves and submerged objects along the seacoasts everywhere, economically important because they foul surfaces. The order also includes solitary hydroids, some reaching several inches in height. One, in the genus Branchiocerianthus, is said to reach 8 or 9 ft (244–274.5 cm) in length. The common freshwater genus Hydra also belongs to this order, as does the freshwater jellyfish, genus Craspedacusta, and the commonly studied hydroid jellyfish, genus Gonionemus. There are also pelagic hydroid colonies, unusual in having one very large hydroid member, which lives with its mouth downward and its aboral surface upward, like a jellyfish. The aboral end is equipped with a projecting sail. Velella, the purple sailor, is an example. The order Milleporina includes colonial organisms that form a massive, porous exoskeleton, somewhat resembling corals. They are sometimes abundant in tropical seas and may contribute to coral reef formation. The order Siphonophora includes often large, floating colonies made up of members of varying form and function. Typical is Physalia, the Portuguese man-of-war. Its colorful float is a gas-filled member of the colony and attains lengths up to 1 ft (30 cm). Other members of the colony hang downward from the lower surface of the float; some of these have very powerful nematocysts able to cause severe physiological reaction in swimmers coming in contact with them. These organisms are able to kill sizable fish with their tentacles.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.