cephalopod (sĕfˈələpŏdˌ) [key], member of the class Cephalopoda, the most highly organized group of mollusks (phylum Mollusca), and including the squids, octopuses, cuttlefish, and nautiluses. The class as a whole has become adapted for a free-swimming existence. Cephalopods are able to move about rapidly, and most are aggressive carnivores. The part of the body that forms the foot in other mollusks is located anteriorly in cephalopods instead of ventrally. Part of the foot area surrounds the mouth and is modified into sucker-bearing tentacles, used to capture prey. The tentacles number 8 in octopuses, 10 in squids, and as many as 90 in nautiluses. The rest of the foot forms a muscular funnel, or siphon, which expels water from the mantle cavity, permitting cephalopods to move about by a kind of jet propulsion. Only one existing genus, the nautiluses, the sole survivors of an extinct group known as the nautiloids, possesses an external shell. In the squid and cuttlefish the shell has become internalized and reduced, and in the octopus it is completely absent. The cephalopod head is large and is equipped with prominent eyes that resemble those of vertebrate animals. The class Cephalopoda has a fossil record of 10,000 species, although only 600 exist today. The nautiloid group was dominant through Paleozoic times, and the ammonites flourished in the Mesozoic era.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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