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Phylum: Chordata

photo of Cunjevoi coating lower shore

Ascidians belong to the Phylum Chordata, and are classified as Protochordates.

graphic of ascidian free-swimming larvaeAlthough Ascidians do not have a vertebral column when they are adults, their juvenile larvae show features in common with the vertebrates.

graphic of ascidian larvae attaching to rockFree-swimming larvae have a notochord (pre-vertebral column), a dorsal nerve chord, and pharyngeal clefts or gill slits.

graphic of ascidian turning into adult stageThese features are lost or modified after the juvenile tadpole-like stage settles onto a rock and then grows into the leathery adult stage.

The most common Ascidian on rocky ocean shores is the common Cunjevoi, Pyura stolonifera, otherwise known as the "sea-squirt". It gets its common name from its ability to squirt out a jet of sea water if stepped upon.

The flesh inside the Cunjevoi is used as fish bait by rock fishermen. When you walk across a rocky shore at low tide, you may see many cunjevoi, with many having their tops hacked off.

There are many other ascidians on shores as well, but most are usually hidden under rocks and boulders lying in sand or mud conditions. These species are more common in the marine zone below the levels reached by the lowest tides.


Bennett, I. (1987) W.J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores. Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

Davey, K. (1998) A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. New Holland, Sydney.

Edgar, G. J. (1997) Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Reed Books, Kew.

Quinn, G. P., Wescott, G. C. & Synnot, R. N. (1992) Life on the Rocky Shores of South-Eastern Australia: an illustrated field guide. Victorian National Parks Association, Melbourne.

Marine Research Group of Victoria (1984) Coastal Invertebrates of Victoria: an atlas of selected species. Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.

Underwood, A. J. & Chapman, M. G. (1993) Seashores: a beachcomber's guide. New South Wales University Press, Sydney.



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photo of Keith DaveyLife on Australian Seashores
by Keith Davey (C) 2000

Learning Consultant - Media
The University of Newcastle

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Scientific Consultant: Phil Colman
site created 01.01.98 : updated 01.04.2000