A volvox is a colony of single-celled organisms that live in the sea, all working together to ensure survival. The cells within the colony may be specialised, in the same way humans living in a community have different roles and skills, independent organisms working together. Some cells may have eye stalks, or have cilia used for swimming. It can be difficult to distinguish a colony of single-celled organisms from a multi-celled organism, and it is likely that multi-celled organisms, such as ourselves, originally evolved from colonies.
On the islands of Xogulano, volvox colonies are rather larger than usual, with cells easily visible to the naked eye. Now, this may sound impossible, but actually there are many visible cells. Some single celled creatures, for example some algae, can reach a size of thirty centimetres.
This morning, I was drinking my coffee, a thick syrup of caffeine, when I noticed a number of white balls bobbing on the surface of the waves. It was quite a shock when I fished one out of the sea and discovered it was one of these colonies. A further shock when it broke apart in my hands, collapsing into the many cells that made up the whole. As the cells slithered away into the sea, they joined to reform the colony.
As a scientist I am naturally drawn towards experimentation. I played Frankenstein with a few of the colonies. I broke apart one volvox and placed half the disjointed cells into a bucket. Then did the same with another. Fascinatingly, a new volvox formed, this one had two tails and only one eye stalk (due to the components available in the bucket).
A fisherman, a previous visitor to the island, saw my experiment and rowed over to the rocky outcrop where I stood with my bucket. Without daring to set foot on the island, he demanded to know what I was doing. When I explained, he took a handful of small stones from his pocket and threw them on the ground, I suspect this is a way of warding off bad spirits. He informed me that playing with the nature of the beasts of Xogulano will invite them to play with my nature. With a face contorted by superstition, he whispered that I would not survive much longer on the island. I bade him good day and continued my observations.
Further study confirmed that the Xogulano colonies reproduce much like most volvox. Reproduction takes place inside the colony and the cells divide by mitosis. Of the two new cells formed, one stays as part of the colony and the other moves to the middle, in the ‘belly’ of the colony it divides further before finally being released.