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main phyla Main Phyla

Over 95% of all the Earth’s described animal species are invertebrates. Invertebrates lack a backbone and range in biodiversity that includes small sponges, insects, and corals to giant squids and lobsters. Of the 250,000+ marine species described in the Voss Marine Invertebrate Collection, more than 75% are invertebrates. Marine environments, and the invertebrates that inhabit these environments, are continually threatened due to climate change and other anthropogenic threats. As our marine environment continues to change, this could be our last chance to study many of these organisms. The most representative phyla at the VMIC are Mollusca, Arthropoda, Cnidaria, Echinodermata, and Annelida. 


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Mollusca vary greatly in species diversity and in body form. Cephalopoda, a class of Mollusca, is a major group within our collection. They are highly intelligent creatures that include octopuses, squids, cuttlefishes, and the shelled chambered nautiluses. All cephalopods have arms or tentacles, blue-colored blood, and the ability to use propulsion to help them traverse through water swiftly. The VMIC holds over 22,000 lots of mollusks.  
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Arthropoda is a vast and diverse phylum. Within Arthropoda, the subphylum Crustacea are among the most widespread group of marine invertebrates varying in size from microscopic plankton less than 1 mm long to enormous crabs and lobsters. Smaller crustaceans, such as amphipods, copepods, euphausiaceans (krill), and isopods, form the basis of ocean food chains. Larger crustaceans include crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and shrimps. Although extremely varied, all crustaceans have a body divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen, along with two eyes, two pairs of antennae, a hard exoskeleton, and jointed, paired appendages. Crustacea is the second largest group in VMIC, holding over 10,000 lots.  
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Cnidaria have two basic body forms: swimming medusae and sessile polyps, both of which are radially symmetrical with mouths surrounded by tentacles that bear cnidocytes. Stony corals and sea pens are well represented in the VMIC with over 3,000 lots.  
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Echinodermata are recognizable by their five-point radial symmetry. This phylum encompasses Asteroidea (starfish), Ophiuroidea (brittle stars), Echinoidea (sea urchins and sand dollars), Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers) and the Crinoidea (feather stars and sea lilies, 580 species). Echinoderms are well represented in the VMIC with over 3,000 lots.  
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The phylum of Annelida is divided into three groups – flatworms (platyhelminthes), segmented worms (annelids), and roundworms (nematodes). All have a long, soft body with no legs and breathe through their skin. Polychaetes, a group of segmented worms, are the most abundant worms in the marine environment, found in intertidal zones down to the deep-sea trenches. They are commonly known as bristle worms because of their characteristic hairs called 'chaetae'. Polychaetes are well represented in the VMIC with over 1,000 lots. 
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* Note: pictures provided by Dr. Evan D'Alessandro