Clockwise from top left: Blepharisma japonicum, a ciliate; Giardia muris, a parasitic flagellate; Centropyxis aculeata, a testate (shelled) amoeba; Peridinium willei, a dinoflagellate; Chaos carolinense, a naked amoebozoan; Desmerella moniliformis, a choanoflagellate

Protozoa (also protozoan, plural protozoans) is an informal term for single-celled eukaryotes, either free-living or parasitic, which feed on organic matter such as other microorganisms or organic tissues and debris.[1][2] Historically, the protozoa were regarded as "one-celled animals", because they often possess animal-like behaviors, such as motility and predation, and lack a cell wall, as found in plants and many algae.[3][4] Although the traditional practice of grouping protozoa with animals is no longer considered valid, the term continues to be used in a loose way to identify single-celled organisms that can move independently and feed by heterotrophy.

In some systems of biological classification, Protozoa is a high-level taxonomic group. When first introduced in 1818, Protozoa was erected as a taxonomic class,[5] but in later classification schemes it was elevated to a variety of higher ranks, including phylum, subkingdom and kingdom. In a series of classifications proposed by Thomas Cavalier-Smith and his collaborators since 1981, Protozoa has been ranked as a kingdom.[6][7][8] The seven-kingdom scheme presented by Ruggiero et al. in 2015, places eight phyla under Kingdom Protozoa: Euglenozoa, Amoebozoa, Metamonada, Choanozoa sensu Cavalier-Smith, Loukozoa, Percolozoa, Microsporidia and Sulcozoa.[9] Notably, this kingdom excludes several major groups of organisms traditionally placed among the protozoa, including the ciliates, dinoflagellates, foraminifera, and the parasitic apicomplexans, all of which are classified under Kingdom Chromista. Kingdom Protozoa, as defined in this scheme, does not form a natural group or clade, but a paraphyletic group or evolutionary grade, within which the members of Fungi, Animalia and Chromista are thought to have evolved.[9]


Class Protozoa, order Infusoria, family Monades by Georg August Goldfuss, c. 1844

The word "protozoa" (singular protozoon or protozoan) was coined in 1818 by zoologist Georg August Goldfuss, as the Greek equivalent of the German Urthiere, meaning "primitive, or original animals" (ur- ‘proto-’ + Thier ‘animal’). Goldfuss created Protozoa as a class containing what he believed to be the simplest animals.[5] Originally, the group included not only single-celled microorganisms but also some "lower" multicellular animals, such as rotifers, corals, sponges, jellyfish, bryozoa and polychaete worms.[10] The term Protozoa is formed from the Greek words πρῶτος (prôtos), meaning "first", and ζῶα (zôa), plural of ζῶον (zôon), meaning "animal".[11][12] The use of Protozoa as a formal taxon has been discouraged by some researchers, mainly because the term implies kinship with animals (Metazoa)[13][14] and promotes an arbitrary separation of "animal-like" from "plant-like" organisms.[15]

In 1848, as a result of advancements in cell theory pioneered by Theodor Schwann and Matthias Schleiden, the anatomist and zoologist C. T. von Siebold proposed that the bodies of protozoans such as ciliates and amoebae consisted of single cells, similar to those from which the multicellular tissues of plants and animals were constructed. Von Siebold redefined Protozoa to include only such unicellular forms, to the exclusion of all metazoa (animals).[16] At the same time, he raised the group to the level of a phylum containing two broad classes of microorganisms: Infusoria (mostly ciliates and flagellated algae), and Rhizopoda (amoeboid organisms). The definition of Protozoa as a phylum or sub-kingdom composed of "unicellular animals" was adopted by the zoologist Otto Bütschli—celebrated at his centenary as the "architect of protozoology"[17]—and the term came into wide use.

John Hogg's illustration of the Four Kingdoms of Nature, showing "Primigenal" as a greenish haze at the base of the Animals and Plants, 1860

As a phylum under Animalia, the Protozoa were firmly rooted in the old "two-kingdom" classification of life, according to which all living beings were classified as either animals or plants. As long as this scheme remained dominant, the protozoa were understood to be animals and studied in departments of Zoology, while photosynthetic microorganisms and microscopic fungi—the so-called Protophyta—were assigned to the Plants, and studied in departments of Botany.[18]

Criticism of this system began in the latter half of the 19th century, with the realization that many organisms met the criteria for inclusion among both plants and animals. For example, the algae Euglena and Dinobryon have chloroplasts for photosynthesis, but can also feed on organic matter and are motile. In 1860, John Hogg argued against the use of "protozoa", on the grounds that "naturalists are divided in opinion—and probably some will ever continue so—whether many of these organisms, or living beings, are animals or plants."[13] As an alternative, he proposed a new kingdom called Primigenum, consisting of both the protozoa and unicellular algae (protophyta), which he combined together under the name "Protoctista". In Hoggs's conception, the animal and plant kingdoms were likened to two great "pyramids" blending at their bases in the Kingdom Primigenum.

Six years later, Ernst Haeckel also proposed a third kingdom of life, which he named Protista. At first, Haeckel included a few multicellular organisms in this kingdom, but in later work he restricted the Protista to single-celled organisms, or simple colonies whose individual cells are not differentiated into different kinds of tissues.

Despite these proposals, Protozoa emerged as the preferred taxonomic placement for heterotrophic microorganisms such as amoebae and ciliates, and remained so for more than a century. In the course of the 20th century, however, the old "two kingdom" system began to weaken, with the growing awareness that fungi did not belong among the plants, and that most of the unicellular protozoa were no more closely related to the animals than they were to the plants. By mid-century, some biologists, such as Herbert Copeland, Robert H. Whittaker and Lynn Margulis, advocated the revival of Haeckel's Protista or Hogg's Protoctista as a kingdom-level eukaryotic group, alongside Plants, Animals and Fungi.[18] A variety of multi-kingdom systems were proposed, and Kingdoms Protista and Protoctista became well established in biology texts and curricula.[19][20][21]

While many taxonomists have abandoned Protozoa as a high-level group, Thomas Cavalier-Smith has retained it as a kingdom in the various classifications he has proposed. As of 2015, Cavalier-Smith's Protozoa excludes several major groups of organisms traditionally placed among the protozoa, including the ciliates, dinoflagellates and foraminifera (all members of the SAR supergroup). In its current form, his kingdom Protozoa is a paraphyletic group which includes a common ancestor and most of its descendants, but excludes two important clades that branch within it: the animals and fungi.[9]

Since the protozoa, as traditionally defined, can no longer be regarded as "primitive animals" the terms "protists", "Protista" or "Protoctista" are sometimes preferred. In 2005, members of the Society of Protozoologists voted to change its name to the International Society of Protistologists.[22]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Protozoen
العربية: أولي (كائن)
অসমীয়া: আদ্যপ্ৰাণী
asturianu: Protozóu
azərbaycanca: Protozoylar
беларуская: Прасцейшыя
български: Протозои
bosanski: Protozoa
català: Protozous
čeština: Prvoci
dansk: Protozoer
Deutsch: Protozoen
eesti: Ainuraksed
Ελληνικά: Πρωτόζωα
español: Protozoo
Esperanto: Protozoo
euskara: Protozoo
français: Protozoaire
Gaeilge: Prótasóin
Gaelg: Protosoa
galego: Protozoos
한국어: 원생동물
हिन्दी: प्रजीवगण
hrvatski: Praživotinje
Bahasa Indonesia: Protozoa
interlingua: Protozoa
íslenska: Frumdýr
italiano: Protozoa
עברית: פרוטוזואה
Jawa: Protozoa
Kreyòl ayisyen: Pwotozoyè
Кыргызча: Жөнөкөйлөр
Latina: Protozoa
latviešu: Vienšūņi
lietuvių: Protozoa
Limburgs: Protozoa
magyar: Protozoa
македонски: Праживотни
Bahasa Melayu: Protozoa
Nederlands: Protozoa
日本語: 原生動物
norsk: Protozo
norsk nynorsk: Protozo
occitan: Protozoari
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਪ੍ਰੋਟੋਜ਼ੋਆ
پنجابی: پروٹوزوا
Plattdüütsch: Protozoa
polski: Pierwotniaki
português: Protozoário
română: Protozoar
русский: Простейшие
Scots: Protozoa
Simple English: Protozoa
slovenčina: Prvoky
slovenščina: Praživali
српски / srpski: Праживотиње
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Protozoa
Sunda: Protozoa
svenska: Protozoer
Tagalog: Protozoa
తెలుగు: ప్రోటోజోవా
Türkçe: Protozoa
українська: Найпростіші
中文: 原生動物