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the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Pyrosomatidae (pyrosomes, fire rollers)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Tunicata > Thaliacea > Pyrosomatida

Three genera and eight species worldwide, with all genera and seven species with broad distributions that include southern African seas. There are no endemic species in the region.

Genera native to southern Africa

Information from World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), Lazarus & Dowler (1979) and other publications listed on the relevant taxon pages.


Four species worldwide, all of which have wide pelagic distributions that include, or are likely to include, southern African seas.


Two species worldwide. Pyrosomella verticillata has an Indo-Pacific distribution that  includes southern African seas.



Two species worldwide, both of which have wide pelagic distributions that include southern African seas.

Key to species in southern African waters

(modified from van Soest 1981)


1 a Exterior of colony entirely smooth Pyrosomella verticillata
  b Colony with projections or denticulations. 2
2 a Colony with low triangular denticles adjacent to each oral siphon (genus Pyrostremma).  
  b Colony with truncate processes, short or long, some of which may contain oral siphons of zooids (genus: Pyrosoma)  
3 a Test thick and opaque. Zooids longer than wide. Pyrostremma spinosum
  b Test thin, transparent.  Zooids as wide as long. Pyrostremma agassizi
4 a Colony more-or-less globular 5
  b Colony cylindrical, finger-shaped 6
5 a Colony of tough consistency, opaque and covered in numerous blunt projections with spines on them. Pyrosoma ovatum
  b Colony soft and transparent with sparsely distributed, elongate, smooth projections Pyrosoma godeauxi
6 a Colony small, sexually mature at 2 cm long and growing to longer than about 2.5 cm, with truncate processes; oral siphon of zooid as broad as the branchial basket. Pyrosoma aherniosum
  b Colony larger, sexually mature at 4 cm and reaching 60 cm in length. Oral siphon much narrower than the branchial basket. Pyrosoma atlanticum


  • Deibel D., and Lowen B. 2011. A review of the life cycles and life-history adaptations of pelagic tunicates to environmental conditions. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr159.
  • Lazarus, B. I. and D. Dowler. 1979. Pelagic tunicata off the west and south-west coasts of South Africa, 1964-1965. Fish. Bull. S. Afr. 12:93-119.
  • Van Zyl, R. P. 1960. A preliminary study of the salps and doliolids off the west and south coasts of South Africa. Investigational Rept. Div. Fisheries, Union of South Africa. v.40, 31p.

Text by Hamish Robertson