Rotifers, also called wheel animalcules, are microscopic animals already discovered by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in 1703. They are one of the smallest animals on earth.

Rotifers can be found in almost all freshwater environments, and occasionally in brackish and marine habitats. But they also live in the thin water films of moist soil, leaf litter, mosses, lichens and even on crustaceans and aquatic insect larvae.

Rotifers are small, transparent, multicellular animals having specialized organ systems, including a complete digestive system with mouth and anus. Most species are smaller than 1 millimeter and feed on bacteria, unicellular algae and dead organic material.


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A particular clade of rotifers, called bdelloids, are notorious because the more then 400 described species only contain females, males have never been observed. They produce daughters from unfertilized eggs, also called parthenogenetic reproduction.

In addition to their ancient asexuality, bdelloid rotifers are known for their remarkable capacity to survive complete dryness at any stage in their life cycle.

These small creatures with their unusual characteristics astonished Karine Van Doninck who started to study bdelloid rotifers in 2003 at Harvard University, with Prof. Matthew Meselson.

One bdelloid rotifer species, Adineta vaga, became the model system in the laboratory of Prof. Karine Van Doninck with a chromosome-scale genome assembly obtained recently (2019).


Discover our latest publications and upcoming events about rotifers and the RISE project.


Article in the Omalius magazine (in French) | And what if females could interbreed alone?

And what if females could interbreed alone? Bdelloïd rotifers, very small invertebrates, seem to exchange genetic inheritance and reproduce without males... (In French) Go to the Omalius magazine


Article in Asgardia (in English) | Sensitive or resistant to space radiation?

Sensitive or resistant to space radiation? 16.10.19 | We aren’t equal when facing radiation, some of us are very sensitive to it, and some appear to be very resistant. So is there a way to personalize space programs for different [...]


Article in FNRS news (in English) | There’s more to life than that!

There's more to life than that! Rotifers, molluscs, amoebas... Very different living creatures with a common characteristic that fascinates Karine Van Doninck: their method of reproduction contradicts the theory of evolution. Read the FNRS flip book


How to prepare for increasingly long space voyages | SCK CEN Space Annual Report 2019

How to prepare for increasingly long space voyages SCK CEN Space Annual Report 2019 Last year, the International Space Station had special guests on board: tiny organisms measuring 1 micrometre to 1 millimetre in size. They are invisible to the [...]