views updated Jun 08 2018


The phylum name Platyhelminthes literally means "flatworms." Members of this phylum are soft, thin-bodied, leaf or ribbonlike worms, including the familiar planaria of ponds and streams, as well as the flukes and tapeworms parasitic in human and other animal bodies. Some defining characteristics of the phylum are that flatworms are acoelomate (they have no body cavity), triploblastic (the body has three tissue layers), and bilaterally symmetric (they have symmetric right and left sides and usually a definite head), and they have organ systems, including an excretory, digestive, reproductive, and nervous system, but no respiratory system.

The class Turbellaria includes all free-living members of the phylum, as well as a few parasites . It includes many marine forms, whose beautiful colors serve as a warning of their toxicity to would-be predators, as well as the more drab freshwater planarians (Dugesia ). Some Turbellaria can swim by undulations of the body margins, but most of them glide gracefully over surfaces along a trail of mucus, pushed by cilia on their ventral surface.

The class Trematoda, commonly called flukes, are unsegmented parasitic flatworms that usually parasitize a snail as an intermediate host (in which they reproduce asexually) and a human or other vertebrate as a definitive host (in which the worms mate and lay eggs). Many species have other hosts between these two, such as fish or frogs. Trematodes usually have a pair of suckers for crawling and clinging to the host's tissues. Many humans are infected with blood flukes, liver flukes, lung flukes, and other trematode parasites of great medical importance.


U.S. zoologist famous for her authoritative six-volume treatise on invertebrates, whose own specialty was hydras and flatworms. Hyman went to college despite her family's objections. In her last years, she lived off the royalties from her textbooks and worked at the American Museum of Natural History.

The Cestoda, commonly called tapeworms, are segmented, ribbonlike parasites usually found as adults in the small intestines of vertebrate animals. Unlike the other classes, they have no digestive tract, for they can absorb predigested nutrients from the host's intestine. The body consists of a long chain of segments, each with its own reproductive system. The anterior end is a knoblike holdfast called a scolex, equipped with suckers and often hooks for attachment to the host's intestine. In general, tapeworm infections are not as medically serious as trematode infections, but some tapeworms can be lethal.

see also Animalia; Body Cavities; Nematode; Parasitic Diseases; Symbiosis

Kenneth S. Saladin


Pechenik, Jan A. Biology of the Invertebrates, 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Schmidt, Gerald D., and Larry S. Roberts. Foundations of Parasitology, 6th ed. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2000.


views updated May 21 2018


Animals in the phylum Platyhelminthes are called flatworms because they are flattened from head to tail. Flatworms share several features with more derived animal phyla. They are the most primitive group to exhibit bilateral symmetry . Flatworms have three embryonic tissue layers: ectoderm, mesoderm , and endoderm.

Animals within Platyhelminthes show more complexity than ancestral phyla, but are not as complex as more derived animal phyla. They are acoelomates, which means they do not have a body cavity. Platyhelminthes are unsegmented. They have muscles and a simple nervous system that includes a primitive brainlike structure which is formed from a thickening of the ventral nerve cords in the head region. They have a mouth, but no anus, and a primitive digestive cavity. They also have a primitive excretory system. They do not have a respiratory or circulatory system and are limited to simple diffusion for gas exchange. They can regenerate by fission as well as reproduce sexually, sometimes with complex life cycles passing through more than one host. Flatworms move about using cilia and by undulating movements of the whole body.

Almost all Platyhelminthes are aquatic, both fresh water and marine, but a few terrestrial species live in moist, warm areas. Species vary in size from microscopic to over 60 feet (20 meters) long for some tapeworms.

There are four major classes of Platyhelminthes and over twenty-five thousand species. Flatworms in the class Turbellaria are marine and freshwater free-living scavengers . The other three classes are parasitic and include some of the most harmful human parasites. The classes Trematoda, commonly called flukes, and Momogea are both endoparasites and ectoparasites . Momogea are parasites of aquatic vertebrates such as fish. Flatworms in the class Cestoda are endoparasites known as tapeworms.

see also Phylogenetic Relationships of Major Groups

Laura A. Higgins


Anderson, D. T., ed. Invertebrate Zoology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Barnes, Robert D. Invertebrate Zoology, 5th ed. New York: Saunders College Publishing, 1987.

Campbell, Neil A., Jane B. Reece, and Lawrence G. Mitchell. Biology, 5th ed. Menlo Park, CA: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1999.

Purves, William K., Gordon H. Orians, H. Craig Heller, and David Sadava. Life the Science of Biology, 5th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates Inc. Publishers, 1998.


views updated May 18 2018

Platyhelminthes (flatworms) A phylum of acoelomate, triploblastic, dorso-ventrally flattened (hence their name), bilaterally symmetrical worms in which the internal organs are well developed and metameric segmentation is absent. The gut may be present, but there is no anus and no blood-vascular system; protonephridia (see NEPHRIDIUM) are the excretory and osmoregulatory organs. Skeletal elements are rare. Morphologically they are quite diverse, and many are parasites. Most are hermaphrodites. The phylum lacks a definitive fossil record. From various evolutionary considerations it is probable that platyhelminths were in existence 1000–800 Ma ago.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Platyhelminthes A phylum of acoelomate invertebrates comprising the flatworms, characterized by a flattened unsegmented body. The simple nervous system shows some concentration of cells at the head end. The mouth leads to a simple branched gut without an anus. Flatworms are hermaphrodite but self-fertilization is unusual. Many species are parasitic. The phylum contains the classes Turbellaria (planarians), Trematoda (flukes), and Cestoda (tapeworms).