A chordate (/kɔːrdeɪt/) is an animal constituting the phylum Chordata. During some period of their life cycle, chordates possess a notochord, a dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, an endostyle, and a post-anal tail: these five anatomical features define this phylum. Chordates are also bilaterally symmetric; and have a coelom, metameric segmentation, and a circulatory system. The Chordata and Ambulacraria together form the superphylum Deuterostomia. Chordates are divided into three subphyla: Vertebrata (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals); Tunicata (salps and sea squirts); and Cephalochordata (which includes lancelets). There are also extinct taxa such as the Vetulicolia. Hemichordata (which includes the acorn worms) has been presented as a fourth chordate subphylum, but now is treated as a separate phylum: hemichordates and Echinodermata form the Ambulacraria, the sister phylum of the Chordates. Of the more than 65,000 living species of chordates, about half are bony fish that are members of the superclass Osteichthyes. Chordate fossils have been found from as early as the Cambrian explosion, 541 million years ago. Cladistically (phylogenetically), vertebrates – chordates with the notochord replaced by a vertebral column during development – are considered to be a subgroup of the clade Craniata, which consists of chordates with a skull. The Craniata and Tunicata compose the clade Olfactores. (See diagram under Phylogeny.)


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