The rotifers make up a phylum of microscopic and near-microscopic pseudocoelomate animals. They were first described by John Harris in 1696 (Hudson and Gosse, 1886). Leeuwenhoek is mistakenly given credit for being the first to describe rotifers but Harris had produced sketches in 1703. Most rotifers are around 0.1-0.5 mm long, and are common in freshwater throughout the world with a few saltwater species. Rotifers may be free swimming and truly planktonic, others move by inchworming along the substrate whilst some are sessile, living inside tubes or gelatinous holdfasts. About 25 species are colonial (i.e. Sinantherina semibullata), either sessile or planktonic.Subscribe in a reader
Structure and form
Rotifers get their name (derived from Latin and meaning "wheel-bearer"; they have also been called wheel animalcules) from the corona, which is composed of several ciliated tufts around the mouth that in motion resemble a wheel. These create a current that sweeps food into the mouth, where it is chewed up by a characteristic pharynx (called the mastax) containing a tiny, calcified, jaw-like structure called the trophi. The cilia also pull the animal, when unattached, through the water. Most free-living forms have pairs of posterior toes to anchor themselves while feeding. Rotifers have bilateral symmetry and a variety of different shapes. There is a well-developed cuticle which may be thick and rigid, giving the animal a box-like shape, or flexible, giving the animal a worm-like shape; such rotifers are respectively called loricate and illoricate.
Like many other microscopic animals, adult rotifers frequently exhibit eutely - they have a fixed number of cells within a species, usually on the order of one thousand.
Males in the Class Monogononta may be either present or absent depending on the species and environmental conditions. In the absence of males, reproduction is by parthenogenesis and results in clonal offspring that are genetically identical to the parent. Individuals of some species form two distinct types of parthenogenetic eggs; one type develops into a normal parthenogenetic female, while the other occurs in response to a changed environment and develops into a degenerate male that lacks a digestive system, but does have a complete male reproductive system that is used to inseminate females thereby producing fertilized 'resting eggs'. Resting eggs develop into zygotes that are able to survive extreme environmental conditions such as may occur during winter or when the pond dries up. These eggs resume development and produce a new female generation when conditions improve again. The life span of monogonont females varies from a couple of days to about three weeks.
Bdelloid rotifers are unable to produce resting eggs, but many can survive prolonged periods of adverse conditions after desiccation. This facility is termed anhydrobiosis, and organisms with these capabilities are termed anhydrobionts. Under drought conditions, bdelloid rotifers contract into an inert form and lose almost all body water; when rehydrated, however, they resume activity within a few hours. Bdelloids can survive the dry state for prolonged periods, with the longest well-documented dormancy being nine years. While in other anhydrobionts, such as the brine shrimp, this desiccation tolerance is thought to be linked to the production of trehalose, a non-reducing disaccharide (sugar), bdelloids apparently lack the ability to synthesise trehalose.
Bdelloid rotifer genomes contain two or more divergent copies of each gene, suggesting a long term asexual evolutionary history. Four copies of hsp82 are, for example, found. Each is different and found on a different chromosome excluding the possibility of homozygous sexual reproduction.
There are about 2000 species of Rotifers, divided into three classes, Monogononta, Bdelloidea, and Seisonidea. The parasitic Acanthocephala is closely related to these groups as well. Currently these four taxa are within the superphyla Platyzoa. Monogononta is the largest group with around 1500 different species.
Bdelloida is of particular note because of the absence of males and the ability of an individual to survive by drying themselves out (known as cryptobiosis). Bdelloids can then become active again when conditions are right.
Rotifers of all types are relatively easy to find. Many live in ponds, moist soil, or any stagnant water. Rotifers can be free swimming or sessile. Rotifers are mostly omnivorous and some have been observed to be cannibalistic. They normally eat algae or decomposing organic material.
Death of a Rotifer