The body of the cestodes, also known as tapeworms, has lost the typical turbellarian form. Although there are a few unsegmented species, the bulk of a typical cestode body consists of a series of linearly arranged reproductive segments called proglottids. There is no mouth or digestive system; food is absorbed through the cuticle. Adults live in the digestive tract of vertebrates, and larval forms encyst in the flesh of various vertebrates and invertebrates.
The body of an adult tapeworm is virtually a reproductive factory. Behind a small securing knob, called a scolex, which bears a circle of hooks or other attachment organs, the proglottids constantly bud off and gradually enlarge. As they mature they become filled with male and female reproductive organs. Cross-fertilization takes place with adjacent worms or neighboring proglottids; in some cases self-fertilization occurs. In some species the ripe proglottids, filled with eggs, are shed. In others the fertilized eggs leave the adult host in the feces. If the eggs are consumed by the intermediate host, the life cycle continues. Tapeworm species that infest human intestines as adults include Taenia saginata, T. solium, the dwarf tapeworm, Hymenolepsis nana, and the fish tapeworm, Diphyllobothrium latum, which can reach lengths of up to 50 ft (15 m).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.