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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Flagellum \Fla*gel"lum\, n.; pl. E. Flagellums, L. Flagella.

  1. (Bot.) A young, flexible shoot of a plant; esp., the long trailing branch of a vine, or a slender branch in certain mosses.

  2. (Zo["o]l.)

    1. A long, whiplike cilium. See Flagellata.

    2. An appendage of the reproductive apparatus of the snail.

    3. A lashlike appendage of a crustacean, esp. the terminal ortion of the antenn[ae] and the epipodite of the maxilipeds. See Maxilliped.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"long, lash-like appendage," 1837, from Latin flagellum "whip, scourge," also figurative, diminutive of flagrum "a whip," from PIE root *bhlag- "to strike" (cognates: Latin flagitium "shameful act, passionate deed, disgraceful thing," flagitare "to demand importunately;" Old Norse blakra "to flutter with the wings," blekkja "to impose upon;" Lithuanian blaškau "to and fro").


n. 1 (context biology English) In protists, a long, whiplike membrane-enclosed organelle used for locomotion or feeding. 2 (context biology English) In bacteria, a long, whiplike proteinaceous appendage, used for locomotion. 3 A whip

  1. n. a whip used to inflict punishment (often used for pedantic humor) [syn: scourge]

  2. a lash-like appendage used for locomotion (e.g., in sperm cells and some bacteria and protozoa)

  3. [also: flagella (pl)]


A flagellum (; plural: flagella) is a lash-like appendage that protrudes from the cell body of certain prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. The word flagellum in Latin means whip. The primary role of the flagellum is locomotion but it also often has function as a sensory organelle, being sensitive to chemicals and temperatures outside the cell. Flagella are organelles defined by function rather than structure. There are large differences between different types of flagella; the prokaryotic and eukaryotic flagella differ greatly in protein composition, structure, and mechanism of propulsion. However, both can be used for swimming.

An example of a flagellate bacterium is the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori, which uses multiple flagella to propel itself through the mucus lining to reach the stomach epithelium. An example of a eukaryotic flagellate cell is the mammalian sperm cell, which uses its flagellum to propel itself through the female reproductive tract. Eukaryotic flagella are structurally identical to eukaryotic cilia, although distinctions are sometimes made according to function and/or length. Fimbriae can look similar but have different functions and are usually smaller.

Usage examples of "flagellum".

Frank Jism collapsed upon the ground, his flagellum whipping about like a dying snake.

Behe compared these cell parts to a simple mousetrap, with far fewer necessary components than a cilium or flagellum.

Each was no larger than a grain of true sand, with legs or flagella so small he could only guess that they existed.

The flagella that let bacterium swim work by an arrangement which looks much like a motor, each proton extruded by the motor turns the assembly a small bit of a full rotation.

All my manipulators and flagella have gone to that big moravec heaven in the sky.

In the early years, it would often thrash about arid make motions with its flagella, but the waiting tape recorders heard no sound that could be deciphered.

I suspect in early Centauri lifeforms, the four limbs were undifferentiated, and were all used for locomotionas flagella in aquatic forms, and as legs in land-dwelling ones.

I had estimated that original monster as perhaps ten klicks long -- these zeplinlike work beasts must have been several hundred klicks long, perhaps longer when one factored in the countless tentacles, tendrils, flagella, whips, tails, probes, and proboscises the things sported.

I know those things with the sucker mouths and those with flagellums which look like tentacles.

The example of the bacterial flagellum quickly became a cornerstone of the intelligent design movement, and Behe's principle of irreducible complexity was promoted as an unavoidable barrier to the evolution of complex structures and functions.