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In particular, how did the close cooperation of its many component species evolve?

My hypothesis is that it began with a few, probably no more than two zooids cooperating in symbiosis, and overtime, either entirely new species of zooid adapted to first parasitize and then cooperate with the existing company, or that some of the existing zooids mutated to acquire different functions. As the new zooids join the cooperation, the other re-adapt to form the "species" we see today.

Is that a somewhat accurate description of the evolutionary history of this colonial organism?

Addendum: Would the relative simplicity of the polyps forming the colony be a crucial prerequisite in their cooperation and specialization?

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it the case that various types of zooid are actually all the same species? $\endgroup$ – Alan Boyd May 28 '17 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Googling 'Origin of Polymorphism in Cnidaria/ Siphonophora' should help you. $\endgroup$ – Tyto alba May 29 '17 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AlanBoyd If so, are polymorphic individuals differentiated by epigenetic mechanisms? Also, would the difference between individuals of various functions be "discretely" differentiated (like the difference between queen ant and worker ant) or "continuously" differentiated (like the difference between leaf-cutter ants of various sizes)? $\endgroup$ – user289661 May 29 '17 at 20:49

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