Hemichordata (hĕmĭkôrˌdāˈtə) [key], small phylum of marine invertebrates closely related to both the echinoderms (phylum Echinodermata) and chordates (phylum Chordata). Acorn worms, class Enteropneusta, are the most common hemichordates. The body is composed of an anterior, conical proboscis, a short collar, and a long, wormlike trunk. Gill clefts in the pharynx and a hollow nerve cord in the collar suggest relationship to chordates, while the ciliated larvae are similar to those of echinoderms. Hemichordates live in burrows or under objects in shallow water and feed on detritus. Balanoglossus gigas may reach a length of nearly 5 ft (1.5 m), but most species are considerably smaller.
Also in the phylum is the class Pterobranchia, whose members are tiny deep-sea creatures that form colonies by secreting a collagenous exoskeleton. They are considered more primitive than the enteropneusts. Pterobranchs have been identified with graptolites, hemichordates of the class Graptolithina (formerly believed to be extinct) since the discovery in 1992 of a living pterobranch identical to fossil graptolites.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.