A cephalopod is any member of the molluscan class Cephalopoda (Greek plural κεφαλόποδα (kephalópoda); "head-feet"). These exclusively marine animals are characterized by bilateral body symmetry, a prominent head, and a set of arms or tentacles (muscular hydrostats) modified from the primitive molluscan foot. Fishermen sometimes call them inkfish, referring to their common ability to squirt ink. The study of cephalopods is a branch of malacology known as teuthology.
Cephalopods became dominant during the Ordovician period, represented by primitive nautiloids. The class now contains two, only distantly related, extant subclasses: Coleoidea, which includes octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish; and Nautiloidea, represented by Nautilus and Allonautilus. In the Coleoidea, the molluscan shell has been internalized or is absent, whereas in the Nautiloidea, the external shell remains. About 800 living species of cephalopods have been identified. Two important extinct taxa are the Ammonoidea (ammonites) and Belemnoidea (belemnites).
There are around 800 extant species of cephalopod, although new species continue to be described. An estimated 11,000 extinct taxa have been described, although the soft-bodied nature of cephalopods means they are not easily fossilised.
Cephalopods are found in all the oceans of Earth. None of them can tolerate freshwater, but the brief squid, Lolliguncula brevis, found in Chesapeake Bay, may be a notable exception in that it tolerates brackish water.
Cephalopods occupy most of the depth of the ocean, from the abyssal plain to the sea surface. Their diversity is greatest near the equator (~40 species retrieved in nets at 11°N by a diversity study) and decreases towards the poles (~5 species captured at 60°N).