3 Methods of Protist Locomotion

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  • 0:00 Definition of a Protist
  • 0:45 Ciliates
  • 1:27 Flagellates
  • 1:59 Amoeboid Podia: Pseudo and Axo
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we will explore protists and the mechanisms these organisms use to move around--their methods of locomotion. At the end, take a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

Definition of a Protist

Defining 'protist' is not as easy as one might expect, since there is still much debate among biologists concerning the exact classification. But in general, a protist is considered a eukaryote and that does not belong to the animal, plant, or fungi kingdoms being composed of some very diverse organisms, such as protozoans, unicellular algae, and slime molds. A eukaryote is an organism with membrane-bound organelles that includes a nucleus.

Biologists generally categorize protists according to their Mode of movement, or locomotion. All protists can travel through water by one of three methods: cilia, flagella, or pseudo/axopodia. With that said, let's explore the three main types of protists and their forms of locomotion.


Ciliated Paramecium

Ciliates, such as the little paramecium pictured here, are the largest of the bunch. Each has little hair-like projections, called cilia, trailing off of its pellicle, a membrane surrounding the organism. The protists uses the cilia to rhythmically beat against its fluid environment. You could think of cilia as like thousands of little oars that the organism coordinates for movement. Ciliates, being the largest of the three protists, tend to feed on the other two type of protists (as well as bacteria), which they collect in their oral groove (or mouth) and engulf. They can also use their cilia to create a small current, which allows the protists to essentially sit back while their food comes to them.


Flagellates are generally the smallest of the protists and have either one or multiple small, tail-like projections called flagellum. Flagellates, like the heterotrophic Euglena pictured here, whip their flagellum back and forth or in a corkscrew motion to propel themselves through their watery environment. Now, not all flagellates are heterotrophic (meaning they can both photosynthesize their own food and consume outside sources of food); some are autotrophic (meaning they produce their own food solely via photosynthesis).

Amoeboid Podia: Pseudo and Axo

Last but not least is amoeboid movement. You might have heard of the term amoeboid (stemming from the word 'amoeba') which means being an amorphous (or shapeless) single-celled organism. But how does one move if they have no shape or defined structures?

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