Brief Summary

Symbion is the only genus in the phylum Cycliophora, which was recognized only in 1995 with the description of Symbion pandora from specimens living on the mouthparts of Norwegian Lobsters (Nephrops norvegicus) in the North Atlantic (Funch and Kristensen 1995). Interestingly, the sessile feeding stage of S. pandora has been known since the 1960s, but was not described until 1995 (Funch and Kristensen 1997, cited in Kristensen 2002).

The cycliophoran body is divided into an anterior buccal funnel, an oval trunk, and a posterior acellular stalk and adhesive disc by which the animal attaches itself to setae (flexible hair-like projections) on the host's mouthparts. Females are about 350 µm long and 100 µm wide. They are suspension feeders, obtaining food by creating water currents with dense cilia around the open end of the buccal funnel. The U-shaped gut is ciliated along its entire length, ending with an anus located near the base of the buccal funnel. Circulation and gas exchange are presumably accomplished by simple diffusion. Obst and Funch (2003) reported S. pandora population densities ranging from fewer than 100 to more than 500 feeding stages per mouthpart.

Symbion (and the phylum Cycliophora) currently includes just two described species: Symbion pandora Funch and Kristensen, 1995 from the mouthparts of the Norwegian Lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) and S. americanus Obst, Funch, and Kristensen, 2006 from the mouthparts of the American Lobster (Homarus americanus) (an apparently distinct third species lives on the mouthparts of the European Lobster [Homarus gammarus]; Obst et al. 2005) . For at least S. americanus, there is evidence suggesting that this nominal species may in fact include several cryptic species (Obst et al. 2005, 2006; Baker and Giribet 2007; Baker et al. 2007). All three known hosts of Symbion are members of the lobster family Nephropidae. Reports of cycliophorans on nematodes and non-nephropid crustaceans (e.g., copepods) are apparently all in error and instead are based on observations of chonotrich ciliates. Examination by transmission electron microscopy is required to see that, in contrast to a cycliophoran, the ciliate consists of just a single cell with several nuclei. (Kristensen 2002)

Cycliophorans have a very complex life cycle that alternates between sexual and asexual phases. The most prominent stage is the asexual and sessile feeding stage, which lives attached to the setae of the host lobster's mouthparts and filters small food particles from the water. For a detailed description of the complex life cycle of Symbion pandora, see General Description; for a whimsical but informative account, check out the CreatureCast podcast on this topic.

A growing body of evidence suggests that the sister group to the Cycliophora is the Entoprocta (=Kamptozoa) (Fuchs et al. 2010 and references therein), consistent with the suggestion made by Funch and Kristensen (1995) in their original description, although cycliophorans share many similarities with the Rotifera and some molecular analyses have indicated a close relationship between these two groups (e.g., Winnepenninckx et al. 1998).

The phylum name Cycliophora is derived from Greek roots meaning "wheel bearing", referring to the circular mouth ring. The genus name Symbion is derived from Greek roots meaning "living together", referring to this animal's intimate association with its lobster host. The specific epithet pandora is a reference to the feeding stage, which contains both an inner bud and a Pandora larva with a miniature feeding stage inside, reminding the authors of Pandora's Box of Greek mythology. The specific epithet americanus is a reference to the host of S. americanus, the American Lobster.(Funch and Kristensen 1995)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:273
Specimens with Sequences:273
Specimens with Barcodes:269
Species With Barcodes:4
Public Records:273
Public Species:4
Public BINs:0
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Barcode data

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Symbion!<-- This template has to be "warmed up" before it can be used, for some reason -->

Symbion is the name of a genus of aquatic animals, less than ½ mm wide, found living attached to the bodies of cold-water lobsters. They have sac-like bodies, and three distinctly different forms in different parts of their two-stage life-cycle. They appear so different from other animals that they were assigned their own, new phylum Cycliophora shortly after they were discovered in 1995. This was the first new phylum of multicelled organism to be discovered since the Loricifera in 1983.


Scientific classification

Symbion was discovered in 1995 by Reinhardt Kristensen and Peter Funch[1] on the mouthparts of the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus), and other, related, species have since been discovered on:

The genus is so named because of its commensal relationship with the lobster (a form of symbiosis) – it feeds on the leftovers from the lobster's own meals [4]

The genus Symbion are peculiar microscopic animals, with no obvious close relatives, and which was therefore given its own phylum, called Cycliophora. The phylogenetic position of Symbion remains unclear: originally the phyla Ectoprocta and Entoprocta were considered possible relatives of Symbion, based on structural similarities. However, genetic studies suggest that Symbion may be more closely related to Gnathifera.

Physical description

Symbion pandora has a bilateral, sac-like body with no coelom. There are three basic life stages:

  • Asexual Feeding Stage – At this stage, S. pandora is neither male nor female. It has a length of 347 μm and a width of 113 μm. On the posterior end of the sac-like body is a stalk with an adhesive disc, which attaches itself to the host. On the anterior end is a ciliated funnel (mouth) and an anus.
  • Sexual Stage
    • MaleS. pandora has a length of 84 μm and a width of 42 μm during this stage. It has no mouth or anus, which signifies the absence of a digestive system. It also has two reproductive organs.
    • FemaleS. pandora is the same size as the male in this stage. It does, however, have a digestive system which collapses and reconstitutes itself as a larva.[1]


Symbion can reproduce both asexually by budding and sexually. In sexual reproduction the male attaches to a feeding stage and impregnates a budding female. The female then separates from the feeding stage and attaches herself to another host, where the larva in her develops. The female dies, and the larva escapes. The sexual reproductive cycle is triggered when the host crustacean molts its skin in order to grow.[5]

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