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Sea Urchins

 

 


At first glance, a sea urchin often appears to be an inanimate object, or one that is incapable of moving. Sometimes the most visible sign of life is the spines, which are attached at their bases to ball-and-socket joints and can be pointed in any direction. In most urchins, a light touch elicits a prompt and visible reaction from the spines, which converge toward the point that has been touched. A sea urchin has no visible eyes, legs or means of propulsion, but it can move freely over surfaces by means of its adhesive tube feet, working in conjunction with its spines.

On the oral surface of the sea urchin is a centrally located mouth made up of five united calcium carbonate teeth or jaws, with a fleshy tongue-like structure within. The entire chewing organ is known as Aristotle's lantern. The name comes from Aristotle's accurate description in his History of Animals:

...the urchin has what we may call its head and mouth down below, and a place for the issue of the residuum up above. The urchin has, also, five hollow teeth inside, and in the middle of these teeth a fleshy substance serving the office of a tongue. Next to this comes the esophagus, and then the stomach, divided into five parts, and filled with excretion, all the five parts uniting at the anal vent, where the shell is perforated for an outlet... In reality the mouth-apparatus of the urchin is continuous from one end to the other, but to outward appearance it is not so, but looks like a horn lantern with the panes of horn left out. (Tr. D'Arcy Thompson)

The spines, which in some species are long and sharp, serve to protect the urchin from predators. The spines can inflict a painful wound on a human who steps on one, but they are not seriously dangerous, and it is not clear that the spines are truly venomous (unlike the pedicellariae between the spines, which are venomous).