To these three characters the Hydrozoa add a fourth which is distinctive of the subdivision of the Coelenterata termed the Cnidaria; that is to say, they always possess peculiar stinging organs known as nettle-cells, or nematocysts (Cnidae), each produced in a cell forming an integral part of the animal's tissues.
The Hydrozoa are thus shown to belong to the group of Coelenterata Cnidaria, and it remains to consider more fully their distinctive features, and in particular those which mark them off from the other main division of the Cnidaria, the Anthozoa, comprising the corals and sea-anemones.
In the development of the Hydrozoa, and indeed of the Cnidaria generally, the egg usually gives rise to an oval larva which swims about by means of a coating of cilia on the surface of the body.
This is a process of gastrulation by invagination which is found in all animals above the Coelenterata, but which is very rare in the Cnidaria, and is known only in the Scyphomedusae amongst the Hydrozoa.
The gastrula has now become an actinula, which may be termed the distinctive larva of the Cnidaria, and doubtless represents in a transitory manner the common ancestor of the group. In no case known, however, does the actinula become the adult, sexually mature individual, but always undergoes further modifications, whereby it develops into either a polyp or a medusa.
The Hydrozoa may be defined, therefore, as Cnidaria in which two types of individual, the polyp and the medusa, may be present, each type developed along divergent lines from the primitive actinula form.
POLYP, the name given by zoologists to the form of animal especially characteristic of the subphylum Cnidaria of the Coelentera.