Volvox Protist Classification: Movement & Description

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Is it a plant? An animal? A protist? Volvox is a confusing little organism with features that make it seem like all three. This lesson will discuss the classification and general description of this mysterious organism.

Volvox Classification

Imagine a teeny, tiny little critter that has two tails, an eye, can make its own food and whose offspring bursts out of it, killing it in the process. What? I know! It sounds really mysterious (and a little scary).

So what is this 'mysterious' critter? It's called Volvox. This little bugger has confused taxonomists, or scientists who classify organisms, for years. Because it can make its own food, a lot of people put it in with the plants. Others place it with the protists. It's important to understand that this is an ongoing debate, however, there seems to be a pull in the science community to stick Volvox in with the protists, so we will go that route in this lesson.

What is a protist, you ask? Well protists are in the Protista Kingdom, which is pretty much a kingdom for all of the misfit critters. It's not a plant, it's not a fungus, it's not an animal and so, voila, it gets stuck with the protists. If we break it down a little further, it belongs to the Chlorophyta phylum, which is a group of protists that live in the water. You might know them as green algae.

Again, when you're reading about Chlorophyta you might see that that it is a classification under the plant kingdom, so remember there is debate and a little confusion on the classification system. It's probably because members of this phylum undergo photosynthesis, or use the sun to make their food. Just like plants. Intrigued? Let's take a closer look at this protist.

General Description and Movement

Volvox live in colonies, or groups of organisms that can be found together. These colonies are found in freshwater all over the world. Each cell in the colony is round and is connected to its neighbor through cytoplasm, which acts like glue, keeping all of the cells bound. This comes in handy when the colony wants to move as it allows the group to move as one. Each cell has two flagella, which is a whip-like tail, on opposite sides. Each cell within the colony uses its flagella to move the entire group. Talk about coordinated effort!

So we know that Volvox is a protist that lives in colonies, and has two flagella, but what about this 'eye' and its offspring bursting from its body? Don't worry, we are getting there.

Flagellum (plural flagella) is a tail that allows Volvox to move. Each Volvox has two flagella.


The 'eye' is actually a red spot on the protist. Although it doesn't allow the Volvox to see like you do, it does allow it to detect light. This comes in handy: Volvox is an autotroph, which means it can make its own food. Remember, Volvox can undergo photosynthesis, so being able to detect light is pretty important. Volvox gets its green color due to the chloroplasts, which are used in photosynthesis.

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