The two forms are similar in construction; both consist of a cylindrical body surrounding a digestive cavity, with a single opening, the mouth, at one end. The mouth is surrounded by tentacles, which are used to capture food and convey it to the mouth; these tentacles are armed with stinging cells which paralyze the prey. The body wall is composed of three layers of tissue. Thin layers called endoderm and ectoderm line the outside and inside, respectively; between these is a layer of jellylike material, called mesoglea, of varying thickness.
The polyp, also called the hydroid, tends to be elongated, with a thin body wall; it is attached to the ocean bottom or other surface by the end opposite the mouth, its tentacles pointing upward. The medusa tends to be rounded, with a thick body wall containing much mesoglea; it swims or is carried in the current with the mouth side down and the tentacles dangling.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.