Ostracoderm

Ostracoderms ("shell-skinned") refers to the armored jawless fishes of the Paleozoic. The term does not often appear in classifications today because it is paraphyletic or polyphyletic, and has no phylogenetic meaning.[1] However, the term is still used as an informal way of loosely grouping together the armored jawless fishes. An innovation of ostracoderms was the use of gills not for feeding, but exclusively for respiration. Earlier chordates with gills used them for both respiration and feeding. Ostracoderms had separate pharyngeal gill pouches along the side of the head, which were permanently open with no protective operculum. Unlike invertebrates that use ciliated motion to move food, ostracoderms used their muscular pharynx to create a suction that pulled small and slow moving prey into their mouths. The first fossil fishes that were discovered were ostracoderms. The Swiss anatomist Louis Agassiz received some fossils of bony armored fish from Scotland in the 1830s. He had a hard time classifying them as they did not resemble any living creature. He compared them at first with extant armored fish such as catfish and sturgeons but later realizing that they had no movable jaws, classified them in 1844 into a new group "ostracoderms" which means "shell-skinned".[2] Ostracoderms existed in two major groups, the more primitive heterostracans and the cephalaspids. The cephalaspids were more advanced than the heterostracans in that they had lateral stabilizers for more control of their swimming. After the appearance of jawed fish (placoderms, acanthodians, sharks, etc.) about 420 million years ago, most ostracoderm species underwent a decline, and the last ostracoderms became extinct at the end of the Devonian period. More recent research indicates, however, that fish with jaws had far less to do with the extinction of the ostracoderms than previously assumed.[3] The Subclass Ostracodermi has been placed in the division Agnatha along with th extant Subclass Cyclostomata, which includes lampreys and hagfishes. Agnatha (Greek,[3] "no jaws") is a superclass of jawless fish in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata. The group excludes all vertebrates with jaws, known as gnathostomes. The agnathans as a whole are paraphyletic,[4] because most extinct agnathans belong to the stem group of gnathostomes.[5][6] Recent molecular data, both from rRNA[7] and from mtDNA[8] strongly supports the theory that living agnathans, known as cyclostomes, are monophyletic.[9] The oldest fossil agnathans appeared in the Cambrian, and two groups still survive today: the lampreys and the hagfish, comprising about 120 species in total. Hagfish are considered members of the subphylum Vertebrata, because they secondarily lost vertebrae; before this event was inferred from molecular [7][8][10]and developmental [11] data, the group Craniata was created by Linnaeus (and is still sometimes used as a strictly morphological descriptor) to reference hagfish plus vertebrates. In addition to the absence of jaws, modern agnathans are characterised by absence of paired fins; the presence of a notochord both in larvae and adults; and seven or more paired gill pouches. There is a light sensitive pineal eye (homologous to the pineal gland in mammals). All living and most extinct Agnatha do not have an identifiable stomach or any appendages. Fertilization and development are both external. There is no parental care in the Agnatha class. The Agnatha are ectothermic or cold blooded, with a cartilaginous skeleton, and the heart contains 2 chambers. While a few scientists still regard the living agnaths as only superficially similar, and argue that many of these similarities are probably shared basal characteristics of ancient vertebrates, recent classifications clearly place hagfish (the Myxini or Hyperotreti), with the lampreys (Hyperoartii) as being more closely related to each other than either is to the jawed fishes.