Xenophyophore in the Galapagos Rift
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
(unranked): SAR
(unranked): Rhizaria
Phylum: Retaria
Subphylum: Foraminifera
Class: Xenophyophorea


Xenophyophores are giant multinucleate organisms found throughout the world's oceans, at depths of up to 10,641 meters (6.6 miles).[1] They were first described by Henry Bowman Brady in 1883 as primitive Foraminifera,[2] and later they were placed within the sponges.[3] In the beginning of the 20th century they were considered as an independent class of Rhizopoda,[4] and later as a new eukaryotic phylum of Protista.[5] Recent phylogenetic studies suggests that xenophyophores are a specialized group of monothalamous (single-chambered) Foraminifera.[6][7][8]

Xenophyophores have been described at depths greater than 500 meters[9] and are more abundant on abyssal plains. Fourteen genera and approximately 60 species have been described;[10] one particular species, Syringammina fragilissima, is among the largest known syncitia, as it can grow up to 20 centimetres in diameter.[11]


  • Description 1
  • Feeding 2
  • Ecology 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Xenophyophores are giant, multinucleate Foraminifera that are confined exclusively to depths below 500 metres.[12] Their name Xenophyophora, which means "bearer of foreign bodies", comes from the Greek and refers to the sediments, called xenophyae, which are agglutinated (cemented together) to construct their tests. They are an important component of the deep sea-floor, as they have been found in all four major ocean basins.[9][12][13][14] However, so far little is known about their biology and ecological role in deep-sea ecosystems.

They form delicate and elaborate agglutinated tests that range from a few millimetres to 20 centimetres. Species of this group are morphologically variable, but the general structural pattern includes a test enclosing a branching system of organic tubules together with masses of waste material (stercomata).[12]

They are often found in areas of enhanced organic carbon flux, such as beneath productive surface waters, in sub-marine canyons, in settings with sloped topography (e.g. seamounts, abyssal hills) and on continental slopes.[11][12][15][16]


As benthic detritivores, xenophyophores root through the muddy sediments on the sea floor. They excrete a slimy substance while feeding; in locations with a dense population of xenophyophores, such as at the bottoms of oceanic trenches, this slime may cover large areas. These giant protozoans seem to feed in a manner similar to amoebas, enveloping food items with a foot-like structure called a pseudopodium. Most are epifaunal (living atop the seabed), but one species (Occultammina profunda), is known to be infaunal; it buries itself up to 6 cm deep into the sediment.


Local population densities may be as high as 2,000 individuals per 100 square meters, making them dominant organisms in some areas. Xenophyophores may be an important part of the benthic Hebefustis), sipunculan and polychaete worms, nematodes, and harpacticoid copepods—some of which may take up semi-permanent residence within a xenophyophore's test. Brittle stars (Ophiuroidea) also appear to have a relationship with xenophyophores, as they are consistently found directly underneath or on top of the protozoans.

Xenophyophores are difficult to study due to their extreme fragility. Specimens are invariably damaged during sampling, rendering them useless for captive study or cell culture. For this reason, very little is known of their life history. As they occur in all the world's oceans and in great numbers, xenophyophores could be indispensable agents in the process of sediment deposition and in maintaining biological diversity in benthic ecosystems.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Brady, H.B. (1884). "Report on the Foraminifera. Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H. M. S. Challenger" 9. pp. 1–814. 
  3. ^ Haeckel, E. (1889). "Report on the scientific results of the voyage of H. M. S. Challenger during the years 1873–76". Zoology 32: 1–92. 
  4. ^ Schulze, F. E. (1907). "Die Xenophyophoren, eine besondere Gruppe der Rhizopoden". Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition auf dem Dampfer ‘Validivia’ 1898–1899 11: 1–55. 
  5. ^ Lee, J. J.; Leedale, G. F.; Bradbury, P. (2000). The illustrated guide to the protozoa (2nd ed.). Society of protozoologists. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press. 
  6. ^ Pawlowski, J.; Holzmann, M.; Fahrni, J.; Richardson, S.L. (2003). "Small subunit ribosomal DNA suggests that the xenophyophorean Syringammina corbicula isa Foraminiferan". Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 50: 483–487.  
  7. ^ Lecroq, Béatrice; Gooday, Andrew John; Tsuchiya, Masashi; Pawlowski, Jan (2009-07-01). "A new genus of xenophyophores (Foraminifera) from Japan Trench: morphological description, molecular phylogeny and elemental analysis". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 156 (3): 455–464.  
  8. ^ Gooday, A. J.; Aranda da Silva, A.; Pawlowski, J. (2011-12-01). "Xenophyophores (Rhizaria, Foraminifera) from the Nazaré Canyon (Portuguese margin, NE Atlantic)". Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. The Geology, Geochemistry, and Biology of Submarine Canyons West of Portugal 58 (23–24): 2401–2419.  
  9. ^ a b Levin, L. A.; Gooday, A. J. (1992). Rowe, G. T.; Pariente, V., eds. Possible roles for Xenophyophores in dee-sea carbon cycling. In: Deep-Sea Food Chains and the Global Carbon Cycle. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic. pp. 93–104. 
  10. ^ Gooday, A. J.; Tendal, O. S. Class Xenophyophorea Schulze 1904. In: Lee JJ, Leedale GF, Bradbury P, eds. The illustrated guide to the protozoa, 2nd edn. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press. pp. 1086–1097. 
  11. ^ a b Gooday, A.J; Aranda da Silva, A.; Pawlowski, J. (2011). "Xenophyophores (Rhizaria, Foraminifera) from the Nazare Canyon (Portuguese margin, NE Atlantic)". Deep-Sea Research II 58: 2401–2419.  
  12. ^ a b c d Tendal, O. S. (1972). A Monograph of the Xenophyophoria (Rhizopodea, Protozoa) (Doctoral dissertation). Danish Science Press. 
  13. ^ Levin, L. A (1991). "Interactions between metazoans and large, agglutinating protozoans: implications for the community structure of deep-sea benthos". American Zoologist 31: 886–900.  
  14. ^ Tendal, O. S. (1996). "Synoptic checklist and bibliography of the Xenophyophorea (Protista), with a zoogeopgraphical survey of the group" (PDF). Galathea Report 17: 79–101. 
  15. ^ Tendal, O. S.; Gooday, A. J. (1981). "Xenophyophoria (Rhizopoda, Protozoa) in bottom photographs from the bathyal and abyssal NE Atlantic" (PDF). Oceanologica Acta 4: 415–422. 
  16. ^ Levin, L. A.; DeMaster, D. J.; McCann, L. D.; Thomas, C. L. (1986). "Effect of giant protozoans (class: Xenophyophorea) on deep-seamount benthos" (PDF). Marine Ecology-Progress Series 29: 99–104.  

Further reading

  • Gubbay, S., Baker, M., Bettn, B., Konnecker, G. (2002). "The offshore directory: Review of a selection of habitats, communities and species of the north-east Atlantic", pp. 74–77.
  • NOAA Ocean Explorer. "Windows to the deep exploration: Giants of the protozoa", p. 2.

External links

  • Microscopy-UK: Note on Xenophyophores
  • More xenophyophore photos, with a map of their habitat