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ABSTRACT: To investigate the evolution of cnidarian life cycles, data from the small subunit of the ribosome are used to derive a phylogenetic hypothesis for Medusozoa. These data indicate that Cnidaria is monophyletic and composed of Anthozoa and Medusozoa. While Cubozoa and Hydrozoa are well supported clades, Scyphozoa appears to be paraphyletic. Stauromedusae is possibly the sister group of either Cubozoa or all other medusozoans. The phylogenetic results suggest that: the polyp probably preceded the medusa in the evolution of Cnidaria; within Hydrozoa, medusa development involving the entocodon is ancestral; within Trachylina, the polyp was lost and subsequently regained in the parasitic narcomedusans; within Siphonophorae, the float originated prior to swimming bells; stauromedusans are not likely to be descended from ancestors that produced medusae by strobilation; and cubozoan polyps are simplified from those of their ancestors, which possessed polyps with gastric septa and four mesogleal muscle bands and peristomial pits.