Spines. It’s one of the first thing people think of when they see a sea urchin. However, there is so much more to this incredible creature beyond its defense mechanism. Sea urchins are perhaps one of the more under-appreciated species in saltwater aquaria, but they can provide an important balance to your tank. Although coralline algae is a good thing, sometimes it can get out of hand. You may wake up one morning and find it all over your glass, filter, and even hermit shells. If scraping is not your thing, a sea urchin can help prevent some of this coralline buildup. They eat coralline algae, as well as many other types of micro and macro algae. Not only that, but many consider them part of the cleaner crew due to their scavenging tendencies. Most urchins are reef safe provided that they are well fed with plenty of rock on which to graze. We have a wide variety of sea urchins down at Crystal Clear Aquariums right now (just in from Florida) so please stop in soon and see what we have to offer.
Sea urchins and sand dollars (Echinoidea) are a group of echinoderms that are spiny, globe or disk shaped animals. Sea urchins and sand dollars are found in all the world’s oceans. Like most other echinoderms, they are pentaradially symmetrical (the have five sides arranged around a central point). Sea urchins range in size from as small as a couple of inches in diameter to over a foot in diameter. They have a mouth located on their upper part of their body (also known as the oral surface) although some sea urchins have a mouth located towards one end (if their body shape is irregular).
Sea urchins have tube feet and move using a water vascular system. Their endoskeleton consists of calcium carbonate spicules or ossicles. In sea urchins, these ossicles are fused into plates that form a shell-like structure called a test. The test encloses the internal organs and provides support and protection. Some species of sea urchins have long, sharp spines. These spines serve as protection from predators and can be painful if they puncture the skin. It has not been determined in all species whether the spines are venomous or not. Most sea urchins have spines that are about an inch long (give or take a bit). The spines are often rather blunt at the end although a few species have longer, sharper spines.
Sea urchins have separate sexes (both male and female). It is difficult to distinguish between the sexes but males usually select different micro habitats. They are usually found in more exposed or higher locations than females, enabling them to dispers their spermatic fluid into the water and distribute it better. Females, in contrast, select more protected locations to forage and rest. Sea urchins have five gonads located on the underside of the test (although some species only have four gonads). They release gametes into the water and fertilization takes place in open water. Fertilized eggs develop into free-swimming embryos. A larva develops from the embryo. The larva dvelops test plates and descends to the sea floor where it completes its transformation into an adult form. Once in its adult form, the sea urchin continues to grow for several years until it reaches its mature size.
Sea urchins can sense touch, chemicals in the water, and light. They do not have eyes but their entire body seems to detect light in some manner.
Sea urchins have a mouth that consists of five jaw-like parts (similar to the structure of brittle stars). The chewing structure is known as the Aristotle’s latern (so named for the description in Aristotle’s History of Animals). The teeth of sea urchins sharpen themselves as the grind food. The Aristotle’s lantern encloses the mouth and the pharynx and empties into the esophagus which in turn connects to the small intestine and caecum.