Sea Urchins

Sea urchins are often called the porcupines of the sea due to
their prickly appearance. These spikey creatures can be found in all oceans,
warm to cold, around the world in rock pools, mud, coral reefs, or sea grass
beds. Like many invertebrates, sea urchins depend on a tough outer shell to
keep them safe, and in their case, they have large spines as an extra
protection measure. A sea urchin’s shell, called the test, is the organism’s
defining feature.

A sea urchin’s shell is its greatest defense mechanism, warding
off predators with ambulatory spikes. If a sea urchin feels a touch on its
shell, their spines will point towards the source in defense. There are a few
species of urchins known to release venom into the wounds that their spines
create, paralyzing their victims. Snorkelers and divers are often injured when
accidentally stepping on an urchin in shallow water.

Sea urchins are members of the phylum Echinodermata family which
includes sea stars, sea lilies, sea cucumbers and sand dollars. This family can
be identified by their hard outer body and radial symmetry once they reach
adulthood. Radial symmetry means that these creatures have body parts that
branch out from a central point, like the five arms of a starfish, a 5-sided
example of radial symmetry.

These barbed creatures are vital for the environments they live
in. While sea urchins are not currently endangered and can be found throughout
the oceans of the world, their populations have been significantly impacted by
pollution and the warming of our oceans. As the number of sea urchins dwindle
due to human influence, the sea creatures that rely on them as a food source
will be impacted as well. Protecting our oceans and wildlife must be a priority
as we grow to understand the role our choices have on our planet.

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