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Echinodermata Nervous System

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Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Echinodermata includes five distinct classes of invertebrate ocean-dwellers characterized by having nervous systems despite the lack of a brain. Learn about the sensory abilities of echinoderms and how their nervous system operates. Updated: 12/01/2021

What's an Echinoderm?

You probably have a good head on your shoulders. The starfish at the zoo? Not so much. Unlike most animals, which have an obvious head, and thus an equally obvious location for a brain, members of the phylum Echinodermata are lacking on both accounts. If you've ever tried to determine where a starfish's head is, then you understand the problem. Their characteristic pentaradial symmetry (five equal body parts) means that there isn't an obvious head end to their bodies.

Echinodermata contains five different classes of marine invertebrates: star fish, brittle stars, echinoids (sea urchins and sand dollars), sea lilies, and sea cucumbers. And, like the starfish, none have obvious heads. And as we will soon see, none have brains either.

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  • 0:04 What's an Echinoderm?
  • 0:55 A Nervous System…
  • 1:35 Sensory Abilities
  • 2:34 Lesson Summary
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A Nervous System Without a Brain?

It is probably hard to picture how it is possible to have a nervous system without a brain. The animals we are most familiar with like dogs, cats and other humans are all mammals. They have a nervous system similar to our own, with a brain, spinal cord, and nerves. But by definition, a nervous system is simply a network of nerve cells and associated nerve fibers that transmit impulses between different parts of the organism's body. A brain is not actually required in order to have a nervous system.

If an organism has an organized set of nerve cells and fibers that are sophisticated enough to meet its needs for daily function, then it has a nervous system. And that is the case with echinoderms.

Sensory Abilities

Instead of a brain, echinoderms have a ring of nerves located around their mouth area that governs their nervous responses. This ring coordinates their motion, their eating, basically anything that requires nerve control. A network of radial nerves surround the central ring, and functions in coordination with their water vascular system to help with motion and righting, their ability to get themselves upright again after tipping over.

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