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Chordates are a large group that gathers many different animals, from aardvark to zyzomys.

Chordates are one of the great group (called a phylum of animals ; a chordate is an animal with a skeleton inside of its body, rather than outside (as the oyster's shell, or the crab's cuticle, for example).

This seems familiar to you, because you are a chordate yourself : the chordates groups gather some of the greatest, and most familiar species on Earth, including our own, the humans.

All chordate are characterized by a peculiar piece of skeleton called a notochord, that gives their name. Notochord is a rigid axis, that runs through the body, from head to tail. Other animals use to have a skeleton outside of their body, like a shell, that protect them from danger, like predators, for example. But the chordate's skeleton is rather placed inside the body, making it more stiff, and strong. Chordates use to have muscles connected to their inner skeleton, that allow them to move quickly.

The notochord is located in the back of the animal, and it sustains and protects the animal's nervous system : the spinal cord. There are three different groups of chordates :

  • the tunicates are marine animals : they look shapeless, or at least sponge-like animals, that doesn't much look like us ; in fact, the tunicates' young, called larvae are very different : it has a notochord, like us, and look like some kind of small fish or tadpole. When growing old, however, it fixes itself to a stand (as a rock, for example), and turn itself to this strange animal. The sea squirts and the salps belong to this group.
  • the cephalochordates are a group of unfamiliar, fish-like animals, with very few species living today's. They look like some kind of small fish. The first chordates appeared on Earth are believed to be cephalochordate. The lancelet is a cephalochordate
  • the hemichordates, or acorn worms, are, as their names suggests, worm-like, marine animals. They only have a short notochord, in the fore part of their body, while the rest is soft, like a worm body. They had been though to be a fourth group of chordate, but most scientists nowadays think that, indeed, hemichordates, with their relatives, the echinoderms, are the chordate closest cousins.
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