Volvox is a polyphyletic genus of chlorophyte green algae in the family Volvocaceae. It forms spherical colonies of up to 50,000 cells. They live in a variety of freshwater habitats, and were first reported by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1700. Volvox diverged from unicellular ancestors approximately .
Volvox is the most developed in a series of genera that form spherical colonies. Each mature Volvox colony is composed of numerous flagellate cells similar to Chlamydomonas, up to 50,000 in total, and embedded in the surface of a hollow sphere or coenobium containing an extracellular matrix made of a gelatinous glycoprotein. Except during the formation of daughter colonies, vegetative cells comprise a single layer with the flagella facing outward. The cells swim in a coordinated fashion, with distinct anterior and posterior poles. The cells have eyespots, more developed near the anterior, which enable the colony to swim towards light. The individual algae in some species are interconnected by thin strands of cytoplasm, called protoplasmates. They are known to demonstrate some individuality and working for the good of their colony, acting like one multicellular organism although this is to be expected (as an asexual species there is little opportunity for conflict between cells and their fitness interests coincide) 
An asexual colony includes both somatic (vegetative) cells, which do not reproduce, and large, non-motile gonidia in the interior, which produce new colonies through repeated division. The daughter colonies are initially held within the parent coenobium and have their flagella directed inwards. Later, the parent disintegrates and the daughters invert. In sexual reproduction two types of gametes are produced. Volvox species can be monoecious or dioecious. Male colonies release numerous microgametes, or sperm, while in female colonies single cells enlarge to become oogametes, or eggs.
Volvox ordinarily grows asexually when the environment provides optimum conditions. V. carteri occupies temporary pools of water that tend to dry out in the heat of late summer. As their environment dries out, haploid asexual volvox quickly die. Shortly before drying is complete, Volvox switch to the sexual phase that leads to production of dormant desiccation resistant zygotes.
Kirk and Kirk showed that sex-inducing pheromone production can be triggered in somatic cells by a short heat shock given to asexually growing organisms. The induction of sex by heat shock is mediated by oxidative stress that likely also causes oxidative DNA damage. It has been suggested that switching to the sexual pathway is the key to surviving environmental stresses that include heat and drought. Consistent with this idea, the induction of sex involves a signal transduction pathway that is also induced in Volvox by wounding.
"The most favorable place to look for it is in the deeper ponds, lagoons, and ditches which receive an abundance of rain water. It has been said that where you find Lemna, you are likely to find Volvox; and it is true that such water is favorable, but the shading is unfavorable. Look where you find Sphagnum, Vaucheria, Alisma, Equisetum fluviatile, Utricularia, Typha, and Chara. Dr. Nieuwland reports that Pandorina, Eudorina and Gonium are commonly found in summer as constituents of the green scum on wallows in fields where pigs are kept. The flagellate, Euglena, is often associated with these forms."
After some drawings of Henry Baker (1753), Linnaeus (1758) would describe the genus Volvox, with two species: V. globator and V. chaos. Volvox chaos is an amoeba now known as Chaos sp.
Ancestors of Volvox transitioned from single cells to form multicellular colonies at least Triassic period. An estimate using DNA sequences from about 45 different species of Volvox and related species suggests that the transition from single cells to undifferentiated multicellular colonies took about 35 million years., during the
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- Guiry, M.D.; Guiry, G.M. (2008). "Volvox". AlgaeBase. World-wide electronic publication, National University of Ireland, Galway.
- Volvox description with pictures from a Hosei University website
- YouTube videos of Volvox:
- Volvox, one of the 7 Wonders of the Micro World by Wim van Egmond, from Microscopy-UK
- Volvox carteri at MetaMicrobe.com, with modes of reproduction, brief facts