protozoan prō˝təzō´ən [key], informal term for the unicellular heterotrophs of the kingdom Protista. Protozoans comprise a large, diverse assortment of microscopic or near-microscopic organisms that live as single cells or in simple colonies and that show no differentiation into tissues. Formerly classified in the animal kingdom, they are now generally divided into five protist phyla: Mastigophora (the flagellates), Sarcodina (the amebas), Ciliophora (the ciliates), Opalinida, and Sporozoa. Most are motile, and most ingest food, as do animals, rather than produce it themselves, as do plants. The 26,000 living species are cosmopolitan in distribution; they are found in freshwater and at all depths in the ocean; some live in soil. Some are parasites in the bodies of humans or other animals, sometimes causing diseases.
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