The rotifers (Rotifera, commonly called wheel animals) make up a phylum of microscopic and near-microscopic pseudocoelomate animals. They were first described by Rev. John Harris in 1696, and other forms were described by Anton van Leeuwenhoek in 1703. Most rotifers are around 0.1–0.5 mm long (although their size can range from 50 μm to over 2 millimeters), and are common in freshwater environments throughout the world with a few saltwater species; for example, those of genus Synchaeta. Some rotifers are free swimming and truly planktonic, others move by inchworming along a substrate, and some are sessile, living inside tubes or gelatinous holdfasts that are attached to a substrate. About 25 species are colonial (e.g., Sinantherina semibullata), either sessile or planktonic. Rotifers are an important part of the freshwater zooplankton, being a major foodsource and with many species also contributing to the decomposition of soil organic matter. Most species of the rotifers are cosmopolitan, but there are also some endemic species, like Cephalodella vittata to Lake Baikal. Recent barcoding evidence, however, suggests that some ‘cosmopolitan’ species, such as Brachionus plicatilis, B. calyciflorus, Lecane bulla, among others, are actually species complexes. In some recent treatments, rotifers are placed with acanthocephalans in a larger clade called Syndermata.
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