The organisms belonging to the Protochordata are generally known as the lower chordates. They don’t form a “proper” taxonomic group and are only classified as such for convenience purposes. However, they do form a major division of Chordata. They are also known as Acraniata because they lack a true skull. They are divided into three sub-phyla- Hemichordata, Urochordata, Cephalochordata.

Characteristics of Protochordata

  1. They are generally found in marine water.
  2. Their body is bilaterally symmetrical, triploblastic, and coelomated.
  3. At a certain stage of their lives, their body develops a long, rod-like structure for support called the notochord.
  4. They exhibit organ system level of organization.

E.g., Herdmania, Amphioxus.

Classifications of Protochordata


  • They are found in marine water.
  • Some live solitarily, and some stay in colonies.
  • The body is cylindrical, unsegmented, and stout.
  • The body is divided into proboscis, collar, and trunk.
  • The collar bears arms and tentacles.
  • They have a complete digestive system.
  • They respire through gills or general body surface.
  • The circulatory system comprises a heart with two longitudinal vessels.
  • The blood has no colour and corpuscles.
  • The proboscis gland or glomerulus make up the excretory system.
  • Sexes may be separate or united and fertilization is either internal or external.

E.g., Cephalodiscus, Rhabdopeura.

Explore more: Excretory system.

Urochordata or Tunicata

  • They are found in the marine environment.
  • They are sessile and filter-feeders.
  • They are also known as tunicates because their body is surrounded by a leathery sheath composed of tunicin (cellulose).
  • The notochord appears in the larval stage in the tail of the larva and disappears in the adult. This is known as retrogressive metamorphosis.
  • The neural tube in the larva is replaced by a dorsal ganglion in the adults.
  • Respiration occurs through gills.
  • They have an open circulatory system.
  • The excretory organs are absent.
  • They reproduce asexually by budding.

E.g., Herdmania, Selpa


  • They are marine and filter-feeders.
  • The notochords remain throughout life and extend up to the head region.
  • The nerve cord and the tail also remain throughout life.
  • Solenocyts are the excretory organs.
  • They respire through gills which open in the atrium.
  • The body wall comprises myotomes.

E.g., Amphioxus

Learn more in detail about Protochordata, its features, classifications and other related topics at BYJU’S Biology.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are Protochordates?

Protochordate is an informal category of organisms to describe the invertebrates that are closely related to vertebrates.

What are the sub-phyla of Protochordata?

Protochordata is divided into the following three sub-phyla:

  • Hemichordata
  • Urochordata
  • Cephalochordata

What is the difference between Protochordates and Chordates?

The Chordates are identified by the presence of a notochord. On the contrary, the Protochordates lack a true notochord.

Do humans have a notochord?

A notochord is the primitive beginning of the backbone found in the embryonic stage. These are only found in the organisms belonging to phylum Chordata. Humans belong to this phylum and possess a notochord at their embryonic stage.

What is the difference between a notochord and a vertebral column?

A notochord arises from the mesoderm and protects the body of the chordates at the embryonic stage. Whereas, a vertebral column extends from the neck to tail and protects the backbone in adult chordates.


Quiz Of The Day!


  1. it was a great lecture, its build my concept about protochordates and chordates

  2. What is the meaning of protochordates

    1. Protochordates are a group of entities, used to describe some invertebrate entities that are in close association with vertebrates. Learn in detail about Protochordates

  3. What are the morphology of protochordates

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