Various types of sea anemone
Photos by Sergio Discepolo
A sea anemone is a polyp attached at the bottom to the surface beneath it by an adhesive foot, called a basal disc, with a column shaped body ending in an oral disc. Most are from 1.8 to 3 centimetres (0.71 to 1.2 in) in diameter, but anemones as small as 4 millimetres (0.16 in) or as large as nearly 2 metres (6.6 ft) are known.They can have anywhere from a few tens to a few hundred tentacles.
The mouth, also the anus of the sea anemone, is in the middle of the oral disc surrounded by tentacles armed with many cnidocytes, which are cells that function as a defense and as a means to capture prey. Cnidocytes contain nematocyst, capsule-like organelles capable of everting, giving phylum Cnidaria its name. The cnidae that sting are called nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a small vesicle filled with toxins (actinoporins), an inner filament, and an external sensory hair. When the hair is touched it mechanically triggers the cell explosion, a harpoon-like structure which attaches to organisms that trigger it, and injects a dose of venom in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling. The sea anemone eats small fish and shrimp.
The venom is a mix of toxins, including neurotoxins, which paralyzes the prey and allows it to be moved to the mouth for digestion inside the gastrovascular cavity. Actinoporins have been reported as highly toxic to fish and crustaceans, which are the natural prey of sea anemones. In addition to their role in predation, it has been suggested that actinoporins could act, when released in water, as repellents against potential predators]. Anemonefish (clownfish), small banded fish in various colors, are not affected by their host anemone’s sting and shelter themselves from predators within its tentacles.
Anemones tend to stay in the same spot until conditions become unsuitable (prolonged dryness, for example), or a predator attacks them. In that case anemones can release themselves from the substrate and use flexing motions to swim to a new location. Most sea anemones attach temporarily to submerged objects; a few thrust themselves into the sand or live in burrows; a few are parasitic on other marine organisms and some have symbiotic relationships with hermit crabs.
Notes from Wikipedia