The Class Echinoidea contains some familiar marine creatures - sea urchins and sand dollars, along with heart urchins. These animals
, so they are related to sea stars
(starfish) and sea cucumbers.
Echinoids are supported by a rigid skeleton called a "test," which is made up of interlocking plates of a calcium carbonate material called stereom. Echinoids have a mouth (usually located on the animal's "bottom") and an anus (usually located on what could be termed the top of the organism). They also may have spines and water-filled tube feet for locomotion.
Echinoids may be round, like a sea urchin, oval- or heart-shaped, like a heart urchin or flattened, like a sand dollar. Although sand dollars are often thought of as white, when they are alive they are covered in spines that may be purple, brown or tan in color.
Sea urchins and sand dollars may feed on algae
and other small organisms.
Habitat and Distribution:
Sea urchins and sand dollars are found all over the world, from tide pools
and sandy bottoms to the deep sea
. Click here
for some photos of deep sea urchins.
In most echinoids, there are separate sexes and individual animals release eggs and sperm into the water column, where fertilization occurs. Tiny larvae form and live in the water column as plankton before eventually forming the test and settling to the bottom.
Conservation and Human Uses:
Sea urchin and sand dollar tests are popular with shell collectors. Some species of echinoids, such as sea urchins, are eaten in some areas. The eggs, or roe, are considered a delicacy.