Temporal range: Middle Cambrian–Recent[1]
(total group)
Pliciloricus enigmatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Loricifera
Order: Nanaloricida
Kristensen, 1983[2]
Families and genera

Loricifera (from Latin, lorica, corselet (armour) + ferre, to bear) is a phylum of very small to microscopic marine sediment-dwelling animals with twenty-two described species, in eight genera.[3][4] Aside from these described species, there are approximately 100 more that have been collected and not yet described.[3] Their sizes range from 100 µm to ca. 1 mm.[5] They are characterised by a protective outer case called a lorica and their habitat, which is in the spaces between marine gravel to which they attach themselves. The phylum was discovered in 1983 by Reinhardt Kristensen, in Roscoff, France.[6] They are among the most recently discovered groups of Metazoans.[7] They attach themselves quite firmly to the substratum, and hence remained undiscovered for so long.[4] The first specimen was collected in the 1970s, and later described in 1983.[7] They are found at all depths, in different sediment types, and in all latitudes.[4]


The animals have a head, mouth and digestive system as well as a lorica. The armor-like lorica consists of a protective external shell or case of encircling plicae. There is no circulatory system and no endocrine system. Many of the larvae are acoelomate, with some adults being pseudocoelomate, and some remaining acoelomate.[7] Development is generally direct, though there are so called Higgins larvae, which differ from adults in several respects. The animals have two sexes as adults. Very complex and plastic life cycles of pliciloricids include also paedogenetic stages with different forms of parthenogenetic reproduction.[3] They are not known to be present in the fossil record.

Taxonomic affinity

Morphological studies have traditionlally placed the phylum in the vinctiplicata with the Priapulida; this plus the Kinorhyncha constitutes the taxon Scalidophora. The three phyla share four characters in common — chitinous cuticle, rings of scalids on the introvert, flosculi, and two rings of introvert retracts.[6][7] However, mounting molecular evidence indicates a closer relationship with the nematomorpha.[8]

Light microscopy image of the undescribed species of Spinoloricus adapted to an anoxic environment (Stained with Rose Bengal). Scale bar is 50 μm.

Evolutionary history

The loriciferans are believed to be miniaturized descendants of a larger organism perhaps resembling the Cambrian fossil Sirilorica.[8] However, the fossil record of the microscopic non-mineralized group is (perhaps unsurprisingly) scarce, so it is difficult to trace out the phylum's evolutionary history in any detail.

In anoxic environment

Three species of Loricifera have been found in the sediments at the bottom of the mitochondria for energy.[9] [10]

The newly reported animals complete their life cycle in the total absence of light and oxygen, and they are less than a millimetre in size.[11] They were collected from a deep basin at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, where they inhabit a nearly salt-saturated brine that, because of its density (> 1.2 g/cm³), does not mix with the waters above.[11] As a consequence, this environment is completely anoxic and, due to the activity of sulfate reducers, contains sulphide at a concentration of 2.9 mM.[11] Despite such harsh conditions, this anoxic and sulphidic environment is teeming with microbial life, both chemosynthetic prokaryotes that are primary producers, and a broad diversity of eukaryotic heterotrophs at the next trophic level.[11]










This article incorporates CC-BY-2.0 text from references.[11][12] Characteristics cited from: Ramel, Gordon. "The Brush Heads (Phylum Loricifera)." The Earth Life Web. Web. 03 Mar. 2011. .

  1. ^ Peel, J. S.; Stein, M.; Kristensen, R. M. B. (2013). "Life Cycle and Morphology of a Cambrian Stem-Lineage Loriciferan". PLoS ONE 8 (8): e73583.  
  2. ^ Kristensen, R. M. (2009). "Loricifera, a new phylum with Aschelminthes characters from the meiobenthos1". Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 21 (3): 163–180.  
  3. ^ a b c Gad, G. 2005. Successive reduction of the last instar larva of Loricifera, as evidenced by two new species of Pliciloricus from the Great Meteor Seamount (Atlantic Ocean). Zoologischer Anzeiger. 243: 239–271.
  4. ^ a b c Ruppert, Edward E., Richard S. Fox, and Robert D. Barnes. Invertebrate Zoology. 7th ed. Toronto: Brooks/Cole — Thomson Learning, 2004. 776.
  5. ^ Heiner, I. 2005. Preliminary account of the loriciferan fauna of the Faroe Bank (NE Atlantic). Biofar Proceedings 2005: 213–219.
  6. ^ a b Heiner, I., Kristensen, R.H. 2005. Two new species of the genus Pliciloricus (Loricifera, Pliciloricidae) from the Faroe Bank, North Atlantic. Zoologischer Anzeiger. 243: 121–138.
  7. ^ a b c d Kristensen, R.M. 2002. An Introduction to Loricifera, Cycliophora, and Micrognathozoa. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 42: 641–651.
  8. ^ a b Peel, J. S. (2010). "A Corset-Like Fossil from the Cambrian Sirius Passet Lagerstätte of North Greenland and Its Implications for Cycloneuralian Evolution". Journal of Paleontology 84 (2): 332–340.  
  9. ^ Fang, Janet (6 April 2010). "Animals thrive without oxygen at sea bottom". Nature (Nature Publishing Group) 464 (7290): 825.  
  10. ^ Milius, Susan (9 April 2010). "Multicelled animals may live oxygen-free". Science News (Society for Science and the Public). Retrieved 11 April 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Mentel M. & Martin W. (2010) "Anaerobic animals from an ancient, anoxic ecological niche". BMC Biology 2010, 8:32. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-32.
  12. ^ Danovaro R., Dell'Anno A., Pusceddu A., Gambi C., Heiner I. & Kristensen R. M. (2010). "The first metazoa living in permanently anoxic conditions". BMC Biology 8: 30. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-30