Superphylum Ecdysozoa: Nematodes and Tardigrades

Superphylum Ecdysozoa

The superphylum Ecdysozoa contains an incredibly large number of species. This is because it contains two of the most diverse animal groups: phylum Nematoda (the roundworms) and phylum Arthropoda (the arthropods). The most prominent distinguishing feature of ecdysozoans is the cuticle—a tough, but flexible exoskeleton that protects these animals from water loss, predators, and other dangers of the external environment. One small phylum within the Ecdysozoa, with exceptional resistance to desiccation and other environmental hazards, is the Tardigrada. The nematodes, tardigrades, and arthropods all belong to the superphylum Ecdysozoa, which is believed to be monophyletic—a clade consisting of all evolutionary descendants from one common ancestor. All members of this superphylum periodically go through a molting process that culminates in ecdysis—the actual shedding of the old exoskeleton. (The term “ecdysis” translates roughly as “take off” or “strip.”) During the molting process, old cuticle is replaced by a new cuticle, which is secreted beneath it, and which will last until the next growth period.