A Protist’s Worst Nightmare

by Jennifer Frazer on March 12, 2011

This video* is hypnotic and illuminating — one might even say joyful, and it is joyful to me to watch it. But if I was a bacterium, alga, or protist (what these rotifers are hoping to get for dinner), I’d feel a bit different. That gauntlet about halfway through the video? Talk about a swirling vortex of rotiferan doom, with their mechanical jaws snapping like clockwork at the bottom of each whirling trap (look for the jaws chugging like pistons about 1/4-1/3 of the way down each gullet).

Repeat after me: “The penitent protist shall pass . . .the penitent protist shall pass . . . ”

As you can see rotifers (literally “wheel bearers”) are so called from the accessories on their foreheads involved in hoovering up dinner. And they are truly amazing creatures. To learn more about bdelloid rotifers (including some gorgeous SEM shots of their jaws) and their alternative lifestyles, see two posts from early in this blog’s life: Lesbian Necrophiliac Bdelloid Rotifers (and the Scientists who Love Them)Parts 1 and 2. The above video provides a good illustration of why they are called “bdelloid”, or leech-like rotifers. They move just like inchworms or leeches**:

Psi Wavefunction did point out, however, that rotifers are *not* the smallest animals. Rotifers are animals (not protists), but as for what the smallest animals might be, I will leave for another day.


*for which I am endebted to the twitter feed of Chris Mah at the Echinoblog

**which are, by the way, annelids (from the last post — see the tree at the bottom) in the Clitellata — look for the Hirudinea. Look for the earthworms just above them in the Lumbricidae. And, just below them but also in the Clitellata (and hence annelids) is the sludge worm Tubifex Tubifex in the Tubificidae — from here, remember?)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

The Phytophactor March 13, 2011 at 10:48 am

Protists sleep?

Brannan March 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

I’m glad I live at this scale.

Alexandra March 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Indiana Jones and the Rotifer of Doom?

Your posts evoke so much emotional response. I’ve always been fond of the daphnia and cyclops I kept as pets when I was younger, but never before have I felt so inspired to cuddle a rotifer. They are both fiercer and more charming than I previously believed. Similarly, I’ve always had a preference to keep a safe distance from leeches, but I have never before been so terrified of them. Until this very day, I did not know leeches could “walk”. I am now redefining “safe distance from leeches” using miles rather than inches.

Jennifer Frazer March 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Brannan — You say that but I bet grizzlies and mountain lions don’t bother protists. : ) On the other hand, there aren’t any 12-gauges sized for protists.

Alexandra — Thanks! It makes me so happy to hear back from readers that what I write is meaningful to them. And yeah, safe distance from leeches probably should be measured in furlongs, at the very least.

BTW, I *loved* your cartoon of the juvenile Gump’s wood louse on your blog. Even cuter! : )

Phytofactor — Oh yes. They count bacteria when they’re having trouble.

Claire Walter March 19, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I never even heard of rotifers, let alone bdelloid rotifers, until 4 minutes ago, but I was fascinated. Someday, some horror film-maker will find this video and be inspired to create a giant rotifer chomping Godzilla, King Kong, Frankenstein and earlier movie monsters and rule the planet. Or not.

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