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Bryozoa \Bry`o*zo"a\, n. pl. [NL., fr. Gr. ? moss + ? animal.] (Zo["o]l.) A class of Molluscoidea, including minute animals which by budding form compound colonies; -- called also Polyzoa.

Note: They are often coralike in form and appearance, each small cell containing an individual zooid. Other species grow in delicate, flexible, branched forms, resembling moss, whence the name. Some are found in fresh water, but most are marine. The three principal divisions are Ectoprocta, Entoprocta, and Pterobranchia. See Cyclostoma, Chilostoma, and Phylactolema.


n. 1 (plural of bryozoon English) 2 (plural of bryozoum English)


See bryozoan

  1. n. sessile aquatic animal forming mosslike colonies of small polyps each having a curved or circular ridge bearing tentacles; attach to stones or seaweed and reproduce by budding [syn: polyzoan, sea mat, sea moss, moss animal]

  2. [also: bryozoa (pl)]


The Bryozoa, also known as the Polyzoa, Ectoprocta or commonly as moss animals, are a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals. Typically about long, they are filter feeders that sieve food particles out of the water using a retractable lophophore, a "crown" of tentacles lined with cilia. Most marine species live in tropical waters, but a few occur in oceanic trenches, and others are found in polar waters. One class lives only in a variety of freshwater environments, and a few members of a mostly marine class prefer brackish water. Over 4,000 living species are known. One genus is solitary and the rest are colonial.

The phylum was originally called "Polyzoa", but this term was superseded by "Bryozoa" in 1831. Another group of animals discovered subsequently, whose filtering mechanism looked similar, was also included in "Bryozoa" until 1869, when the two groups were noted to be very different internally. The more recently discovered group was given the name Entoprocta, while the original "Bryozoa" were called "Ectoprocta". However, "Bryozoa" has remained the more widely used term for the latter group.

Individuals in bryozoan (ectoproct) colonies are called zooids, since they are not fully independent animals. All colonies contain autozooids, which are responsible for feeding and excretion. Colonies of some classes have various types of non-feeding specialist zooids, some of which are hatcheries for fertilized eggs, and some classes also have special zooids for defense of the colony. The class Cheilostomata have the largest number of species, possibly because they have the widest range of specialist zooids. A few species can creep very slowly by using spiny defensive zooids as legs. Autozooids supply nutrients to non-feeding zooids by channels that vary between classes. All zooids, including those of the solitary species, consist of a cystid that provides the body wall and produces the exoskeleton and a polypide that contains the internal organs and the lophophore or other specialist extensions. Zooids have no special excretory organs, and the polypides of autozooids are scrapped when the polypides become overloaded by waste products; usually the body wall then grows a replacement polypide. In autozooids the gut is U-shaped, with the mouth inside the "crown" of tentacles and the anus outside it. Colonies take a variety of forms, including fans, bushes and sheets. The Cheilostomata produce mineralized exoskeletons and form single-layered sheets which encrust over surfaces.

Zooids of all the freshwater species are simultaneous hermaphrodites. Although those of many marine species function first as males and then as females, their colonies always contain a combination of zooids that are in their male and female stages. All species emit sperm into the water. Some also release ova into the water, while others capture sperm via their tentacles to fertilize their ova internally. In some species the larvae have large yolks, go to feed, and quickly settle on a surface. Others produce larvae that have little yolk but swim and feed for a few days before settling. After settling, all larvae undergo a radical metamorphosis that destroys and rebuilds almost all the internal tissues. Freshwater species also produce statoblasts that lie dormant until conditions are favorable, which enables a colony's lineage to survive even if severe conditions kill the mother colony.

Predators of marine bryozoans include nudibranchs (sea slugs), fish, sea urchins, pycnogonids, crustaceans, mites and starfish. Freshwater bryozoans are preyed on by snails, insects, and fish. In Thailand, many populations of one freshwater species have been wiped out by an introduced species of snail. A fast-growing invasive bryozoan off the northeast and northwest coasts of the USA has reduced kelp forests so much that it has affected local fish and invertebrate populations. Bryozoans have spread diseases to fish farms and fishermen. Chemicals extracted from a marine bryozoan species have been investigated for treatment of cancer and Alzheimer's disease, but analyses have not been encouraging.

Mineralized skeletons of bryozoans first appear in rocks from Early Ordovician period, making it the last major phylum to appear in the fossil record. This has led researchers to suspect that bryozoans had arisen earlier but were initially unmineralized, and may have differed significantly from fossilized and modern forms. Early fossils are mainly of erect forms, but encrusting forms gradually became dominant. It is uncertain whether the phylum is monophyletic. Bryozoans' evolutionary relationships to other phyla are also unclear, partly because scientists' view of the family tree of animals is mainly influenced by better-known phyla. Both morphological and molecular phylogeny analyses disagree over bryozoans' relationships with entoprocts, about whether bryozoans should be grouped with brachiopods and phoronids in Lophophorata, and whether bryozoans should be considered protostomes or deuterostomes.