Moving without limbs! Linnaeus on Volvox


Linnaeus - 1758

In ancient times, when dusky seaside sparrows still roamed the Earth, I took two years of high school Latin. My Latin name was Matteus (we were all required to call each other and Mrs. Knowles by our Latin names); my Latin motto was “carpe diem.” That’s about how much I remember. Thankfully, in these modern times, we have Google Translate*. If you remember more Latin than I do, please feel free to correct my translations in the comments.

Linnaeus gave Van Leeuwehoek’s “great round particles” the name Volvox in his Systema Naturae. Linnaeus lists two species of “Volvox“, V. globator and V. chaos. “Volvox chaos” is an amoeba now known as Chaos sp. (though there is some confusion about its exact identity). Although AlgaeBase lists V. chaos as a valid taxon, Leidy (1879, pp. 30-35) reviews the synonymy of Chaos, and it is clearly an amoeba, not an alga.

But what does Linnaeus actually say about Volvox proper? On page 646, he introduces the genus within the class Zoophyta:

Volvox stirps libera, globosa, sobole nidulante

Stirps libera is something like “free lineage,” which I take to mean that it belongs to its own lineage, not closely related to anything else he describes. Globosa is spherical, and sobole nidulante is something like “offspring embedded.”

On pages 820-821, he goes into more detail:

Volvox. Corpus liberum, gelatinosum, rotundatum, artubus destitutum

Free body, gelatinous, round, lacking limbs

Proles subrotundi, nidulantes, sparsi

Offspring somewhat round, embedded, scattered

globator. I. V. globosus

Backer. microsc. 322

Roef. inf. 3. p. 617. f. 1-3. Globo-Animal.

Habitat in Europae Lacubus.

Habitat in European lakes.

Volvendo seque rotando celeriter movens absque artubus! viviparus natis, nepotibus, pronepotibus, abnepotibus conspicuis intra animaliculum minitissiumum.

This is my favorite line…the exclamation point is in the original: They roll around rapidly rotating, moving without limbs! children [given] live birth, children, grandchildren, [and] great-grandchildren visible within the tiny animal.

*Actually, William Whitaker’s Words was the most useful tool I found.



Leave a Reply