Hydrozoa (hydrozoans) are a taxonomic class of very massive, predatory animals which can be solitary or colonial and which mostly live in saltwater. A few genera within this class live in freshwater. Hydrozoans are related to jellyfish and corals and belong to the phylum Cnidaria.

Some examples of hydrozoans are the Freshwater Jelly (Craspedacusta sowerbyi), the freshwater polyps (Hydra), Obelia, the Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis), the chondrophores (Porpitidae), "air fern" (Sertularia argenta) and the pink-hearted hydroids (Tubularia).


Hydrozoan systematics is highly complex. Several approaches for expressing their interrelationships were proposed and heavily contested since the late 19th century, but in more recent times a consensus seems to be emerging.

For long, the hydrozoans were divided into a number of orders, according to their mode of growth and reproduction. Most famous among these was probably the assemblage called "Hydroida", but this group is apparently paraphyletic, united by plesiomorphic (ancestral) traits. Other such orders were the Anthoathecatae, Actinulidae, Laingiomedusae, Polypodiozoa, Siphonophora and Trachylina.

As far as can be told from the molecular and morphological data at hand, the Siphonophora for example were just highly specialized "hydroids," whereas the Limnomedusae - presumed to be a "hydroid" suborder - were simply very primitive hydrozoans and not closely related to the other "hydroids." Therefore, today the hydrozoans are at least tentatively divided into two subclasses, the Leptolinae (containing the bulk of the former "Hydroida" and the Siphonophora) and the Trachylinae, containing the others (including the Limnomedusae). The monophyly of several of the presumed orders in each subclass is still in need of verification.

In any case, according to this classification, the hydrozoans can be subdivided as follows, with taxon names emended to end in "-ae":


ITIS uses the same system but unlike here does not use the oldest available names for many groups.

In addition, there exists a weird cnidarian parasite, Polypodium hydriforme, which lives inside its host's cells. It is sometimes placed in the Hydrozoa, but actually its relationships are better treated as unresolved for the time being - a somewhat controversial 18S rRNA sequence analysis found it to be closer to Myxozoa. It was traditionally placed in its own class Polypodiozoa and this view is presently often seen to reflect the uncertainties surrounding this highly distinct animal.

Other classifications

Some of the more widespread classification systems for the Hydrozoa are listed below. Though they are often found in seemingly authoritative Internet sources and databases, they do not agree witnh the currently available data. Especially the presumed phylogenetic distinctness of the Siphonophora is a major flaw that was corrected only recently.

The obsolete classification mentioned above was as follows:

A very old classification that is sometimes still seen is:

Catalogue of Life uses the following:

Animal Diversity Web uses the following:

Hydra, a freshwater genus

The most widely-known and researched freshwater hydrozoan is Hydra, which is found in slow-moving waters.

Hydra has a pedal disc composed of gland cells that helps it attach to substrates, and like all cnidarians uses nematocysts, or "stinging cells," to disable its prey. Hydra eat small crustaceans (such as brine shrimp), insect larvae, and annelid worms. Hydra may reproduce sexually, through the spawning of sperm (and thus insemination of eggs on the female body column), or through asexual reproduction (budding).

Life cycles

Some colonial hydrozoans have both a medusa stage and a polyp stage in their life cycle (but more hydrozoan species do not have the medusa stage). Each colony has a base, a stalk, and one or more polyps. Hydroid colonies are usually dioecious, which means that they have separate sexes - all the polyps in each colony are either male or female, but not usually both sexes in the same colony. Hydrozoan colonies are composed of a number of specialized polyps (or "zooids") - including feeding, reproductive, and sometimes, protective zooids. In some species, the reproductive polyps, known as gonozooids (or "gonotheca" in thecate hydrozoans) bud off asexually-produced medusae. These tiny, new medusae (which are either male or female) mature and spawn, releasing gametes freely into the sea in most cases. Zygotes become free-swimming planula larvae or actinula larvae that either settle on a suitable substrate (in the case of planulae), or swim and develop into another medusae or polyp directly (actinulae). Colonial hydrozoans include siphonophore colonies, Hydractinia, Obelia, and many others.

The medusa stage, if present, is the sexually-reproductive life cycle phase (that is, in hydrozoan species that have both polyp and medusa generations). Medusae of these species of Hydrozoa are known as "hydromedusae". Most hydromedusae have shorter life spans than the larger scyphozoan jellyfish. Some species of hydromedusae release gametes shortly after they are themselves released from the hydroids (as in the case of fire corals), living only a few hours, while other species of hydromedusae grow and feed in the plankton for months, spawning daily for many days before their supply of food or other water conditions deteriorate and cause their demise.



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