Mollusca is the second largest phylum of invertebrate animals. The members are known as molluscs or mollusks[note 1] (k/). Around 85,000 extantspecies of molluscs are recognized. The number of fossil species is estimated between 60,000 and 100,000 additional species.
The three most universal features defining modern molluscs are a mantle with a significant cavity used for breathing and excretion, the presence of a radula (except for bivalves), and the structure of the nervous system. Other than these common elements, molluscs express great morphological diversity, so many textbooks base their descriptions on a "hypothetical ancestral mollusc" (see image below). This has a single, "limpet-like" shell on top, which is made of proteins and chitin reinforced with calcium carbonate, and is secreted by a mantle covering the whole upper surface. The underside of the animal consists of a single muscular "foot". Although molluscs are coelomates, the coelom tends to be small.The main body cavity is a hemocoel through which blood circulates; as such, their circulatory systems are mainly open. The "generalized" mollusc's feeding system consists of a rasping "tongue", the radula, and a complex digestive system in which exuded mucus and microscopic, muscle-powered "hairs" called cilia play various important roles. The generalized mollusc has two paired nerve cords, or three in bivalves. The brain, in species that have one, encircles the esophagus. Most molluscs have eyes, and all have sensors to detect chemicals, vibrations, and touch. The simplest type of molluscan reproductive system relies on external fertilization, but more complex variations occur. All produce eggs, from which may emerge trochophorelarvae, more complex veliger larvae, or miniature adults. The coelomic cavity is reduced. They have an open circulatory system and kidney-like organs for excretion.
Good evidence exists for the appearance of gastropods, cephalopods and bivalves in the Cambrian period, 541 to 485.4 million years ago. However, the evolutionary history both of molluscs' emergence from the ancestral Lophotrochozoa and of their diversification into the well-known living and fossil forms are still subjects of vigorous debate among scientists.
Molluscs have been and still are an important food source for anatomically modern humans. There is a risk of food poisoning from toxins which can accumulate in certain molluscs under specific conditions, however, and because of this, many countries have regulations to reduce this risk. Molluscs have, for centuries, also been the source of important luxury goods, notably pearls, mother of pearl, Tyrian purple dye, and sea silk. Their shells have also been used as money in some preindustrial societies.
Mollusc species can also represent hazards or pests for human activities. The bite of the blue-ringed octopus is often fatal, and that of Octopus apollyon causes inflammation that can last for over a month. Stings from a few species of large tropical cone shells can also kill, but their sophisticated, though easily produced, venoms have become important tools in neurological research. Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia, bilharziosis or snail fever) is transmitted to humans via water snail hosts, and affects about 200 million people. Snails and slugs can also be serious agricultural pests, and accidental or deliberate introduction of some snail species into new environments has seriously damaged some ecosystems.
The words mollusc and mollusk are both derived from the French mollusque, which originated from the Latinmolluscus, from mollis, soft. Molluscus was itself an adaptation of Aristotle's τὰ μαλάκιαta malákia (lit. "the soft ones"; < μαλακόςmalakós "soft"), which he applied inter alia to cuttlefish. The scientific study of molluscs is accordingly called malacology.
The name Molluscoida was formerly used to denote a division of the animal kingdom containing the brachiopods, bryozoans, and tunicates, the members of the three groups having been supposed to somewhat resemble the molluscs. As it is now known these groups have no relation to molluscs, and very little to one another, the name Molluscoida has been abandoned.