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Sea anemones are a group of water dwelling, predatory animals of the order Actiniaria; they are named after the anemone, a terrestrial flower. As cnidarians, sea anemones are closely related to corals, jellyfish, tube-dwelling anemones, and Hydra.


A sea anemone is a polyp, attached at the bottom to the surface beneath it by an adhesive foot, called a pedal disk, with a column shaped body ending in an oral disk. The mouth is in the middle of the oral disk, surrounded by tentacles armed with many cnidocytes, which are cells that function as a defense and as a means to capture prey. Cnidocytes contain nematocyst, capsule-like organelles capable of everting, giving phylum Cnidaria its name. The cnidae that sting are called nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a small vesicle filled with toxins (actinoporin) an inner filament and an external sensory hair. When the hair is touched, it mechanically triggers the cell explosion, a harpoon-like structure which attaches to organisms that trigger it, and injects a dose of poison in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling.

The poison is a mix of toxins, including neurotoxins, which paralyze the prey, which is then moved by the tentacles to the mouth/anus for digestion inside the gastrovascular cavity. Actinoporins have been reported as highly toxic to fish and crustaceans, which may be the natural prey of sea anemones. In addition to their role in predation, it has been suggested that actinoporins could act, when released in water, as repellents against potential predators. Anemonefish (clownfish), small banded fish in various colors, are not affected by their host anemone's sting and shelter from predators within its tentacles.

The internal anatomy of anemones is simple. There is a gastrovascular cavity (which functions as a stomach) with a single opening to the outside which functions as both a mouth and an anus: waste and undigested matter is excreted through the mouth/anus, which can be described as an incomplete gut. A primitive nervous system, without centralization, coordinates the processes involved in maintaining homeostasis as well as biochemical and physical responses to various stimuli. Anemones range in size from less than 1¼ cm (½ in) to nearly 2 m (6 ft) in diameter. They can have a range of ten tentacles to hundreds.

The muscles and nerves in anemones are much simpler than those of other animals. Cells in the outer layer (epidermis) and the inner layer (gastrodermis) have microfilaments that group into contractile fibers. These fibers are not true muscles because they are not freely suspended in the body cavity as they are in more developed animals. Since the anemone lacks a skeleton, the contractile cells pull against the gastrovascular cavity, which acts as a hydrostatic skeleton. The anemone stabilizes itself by shutting its mouth, which keeps the gastrovascular cavity at a constant volume, making it more rigid.

Life cycle

Unlike other cnidarians, anemones (and other anthozoans) entirely lack the free-swimming medusa stage of the life cycle: the polyp produces eggs and sperm, and the fertilized egg develops into a planula that develops directly into another polyp.

Anemones tend to stay in the same spot until conditions become unsuitable (prolonged dryness, for example), or a predator attacks them. In that case anemones can release themselves from the substrate and use flexing motions to swim to a new location.

The sexes in sea anemones are separate for some species while some are hermaphroditic. Both sexual and asexual reproduction may occur. In sexual reproduction males release sperm to stimulate females to release eggs, and fertilization occurs. Anemones eject eggs and sperm through the mouth. The fertilized egg develops into a planula, which settles and grows into a single polyp. Anemones can also reproduce asexually, by budding, binary fission (the polyp separates into two halves), and pedal laceration, in which small pieces of the pedal disc break off and regenerate into small anemones.

In media

  • The rock band Alien Ant Farm repeat the refrain "A sea anemone on my enemy" in their song "Stranded".
  • In episode 54 of the podcast Jordan, Jesse Go! entitled "I Dream of Jordan", at about 38:30 hosts Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris detail the similarities between a sea anemone and co-host Jordan.
  • In the Pixar movie Finding Nemo, clownfish Nemo and Marlin live in a sea anemone.

See also


Image:SeaAnemone.jpg|Sea anemone at Cape Arago, OregonImage:Longitudinal fission of Anthopleura elegantissima.jpg|Sea anemone in process of cloning (longitudinal fission)Image:Colonial anemone zebra.jpg|Colonial zebra anemone from East Timormarker.Image:Actinia equina 0009.JPG|Actinia equinaImage:Ocean_reef.jpg|Sea anemonesImage:Close-up of clone war of sea anemones.jpg|Sea anemones, Anthopleura sola engaged in war for territory.Image:Deepsea anemone.jpg|Deep–sea anemoneImage:Anemone.bristol.750pix.jpg|Sea anemones in a "mini-reef" marine aquariumImage:Flytrapanenome.jpg|Venus flytrap sea anemoneimage:Beaded_Sea_Anenome_with_shrimp.JPG|A shrimp living with a Beaded sea anemoneImage:Anemonefishfiji.jpg|An Anemonefish and an AnemoneImage:Sea anemone in tidepools.jpgImage:Tide pools in santa cruz.jpgImage:Sea anemone and sea urchin.jpgImage:Actinodendron.jpgImage:Anemone Crab.JPG|A porcelain crab living with an anemone, probably Entamacea quadricolorImage:Colonial anemone.jpg|Colonial anemones attached to black coral from East Timormarker.Image:Anthopleura sola is consuming Velella velella.jpg| Anthopleura sola is in process of consuming a "by the wind sailor", Velella velellaImage:Nudibranch attacking sea anemone 1.jpg|A nudibranch, species Aeolidia papillosa starts to eat a sea anemone.Image:Sea anemone clones.jpg|Hundreds of anemones at low tide - they all are clones.Image:2002_aquaimages.jpg|Close-up of anemone.File:Calcinus laevimanus hermit crab with Calliactis sea anemone. 2 frames in one.jpg|hermit crab, Calcinus laevimanus with sea anemoneFile:Seaanemone2500ppx.JPG|A cluster of several small Sea Anemones growing together.


  1. Fagatele Bay NMS: Clownfish and Sea Anemone
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