Euglena is a genus of unicellular flagellate protists. Euglena gracilis is the best known and most widely studied member of the phylum Euglenozoa, a diverse group containing some 44 genera and at least 800 species. Most species of Euglena have photosynthesizing chloroplasts within the body of the cell, which enable them to feed by autotrophy, like plants. However, they can also take nourishment heterotrophically, like animals.
Euglena possess a red eyespot, an organelle composed of carotenoid pigment granules. The red spot itself is not thought to be photosensitive. Rather, it filters the sunlight that falls on a light-detecting structure at the base of the flagellum (a swelling, known as the paraflagellar body), allowing only certain wavelengths of light to reach it. As the cell rotates with respect to the light source, the eyespot partially blocks the source, permitting the Euglena to find the light and move toward it (a process known as phototaxis).
Euglena lacks a cell wall. Instead, it has a pellicle made up of a protein layer supported by a substructure of microtubules, arranged in strips spiraling around the cell. The action of these pellicle strips sliding over one another gives Euglena its exceptional flexibility and contractility.