Nematocytes, Cnidocyte, and Cnidoblast are scientific terms for the highly specialized cells used by Cnidarians for capturing and anchoring their prey. Referred to by scientists as "explosive", these little cells contain harpoon-style barbs that explode out, getting buried under the skin of their prey. Once the barbs are anchored in, a toxin is released that helps the Cnidarians eat their meals. There are dozens of styles of barbs and multiple methods for how the nematocytes help capture prey. Some have pointy, arrow shaped ends for penetrating tissue, some are sticky, and there are even some that act like a coil and wrap around their prey.
Nematocytes are an important tool for a super cool group of organisms!
Guess what, Defenders! The toxin released from nematocytes has multiple levels of toxicity, with some being completely harmless and others being incredibly painful and deadly. A Cnidarian known as the sea wasp is considered to be the world’s most toxic marine species.
Want to learn more about other animals with cool nematocytes?! Be sure to check out the rest of the Cnidarian Center