19 Differences between cilia and flagella (cilia vs flagella)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2021 by Sagar Aryal

Cilia and flagella are cytoplasmic processes extending from the cell surface. The cell organelles are similar but are differentiated based on their size, number, function and/or mode of beating.

Differences between cilia and flagella

Here are the key differences between cilia and flagella





1.      DefinitionCilia are short, hair like appendages extending from the surface of a living cell.Flagella are long, threadlike appendages on the surface of a living cell.
2.      EtymologyFrom Latin word for “eyelash”.From Latin word for “whip”.
3.      Singular formCiliumFlagellum
4.      Found inEukaryotic cellsEukaryotic and prokaryotic cells
5.      DistributionIn protozoans of the class ciliate and ciliated epithelium of the metazoan, in larva of certain platyhelminthes, echinodermata, mollusc and annelid.In some bacterial cells, protozoans of the class Flagellata, choanocyte of the sponges, spermatzoa of the metazoan and among plants in the algae and gamete cells.
6.      LengthShort and hair like organelle (5-10µ)Long wipe like organelle (150µ)
7.      ThicknessGreater diameter than flagella. They are around 0.3 to 0.5 um thick.Flagella attached to the margin of the bacteria are around 20-25 nm (0.02 to 0.025 um) thin.
8.      NumberNumerousLesser in Number.

Prokaryotes can have more than one flagella.

9.      DensityMany (hundreds) per cellFew (less than 10) per cell
10.   Position on cellOccurs throughout the cell surface.Presence at one end or two ends or all over the surface.
11.   OrganizationPossess a central bundle of microtubules, called the axoneme, in which nine outer doublet microtubules surround a central pair of singlet microtubule. Characteristic “9 + 2” arrangement of microtubules is seen when the axoneme is viewed in cross section with the electron microscope. Eukaryotic flagella are remarkably similar in their organization to cilia.

Prokaryotic flagella are simpler structures made up of flagellin (53KDa subunit).

12.   Beating synchronizationCilia beat in a coordinated rhythm either simultaneously (synchronous) or one after the other (metachronic).They beat independent of each other.
13.   Motion typeRotational, like a motor, very fast moving.Rotary movement in prokaryotes.

Bending movement in eukaryotes.

14.   Swimming motionCilia moves like the breast strokeFlagella move in an oar-like style.
15.   Energy ProductionCilia use ‘kinesin’ which has an ATPase activity that produces energy to perform the movement.Flagella are powered by the proton-motive force by the plasma membrane in prokaryotes.

ATP-driven in eukaryotes.

16.   TypesTwo types of cilia are found in eukaryotic cells: primary/non-motile cilia and motile cilia. Three types of flagella are identified: bacterial, archaeal and eukaryotic.
17.   PurposeHelps in locomotion or move substances along the outer surface of the cell (for example, the cilia of cells lining the fallopian tubes that move the ovum toward the uterus, or cilia lining the cells of the respiratory tract that move particulate matter toward the throat that mucus has trapped), feeding circulation, aeration, etc.Help mainly in locomotion only.
18.   FunctionsExcept for sperms, cilia in mammalian systems not for locomotion.Extend from the plasma membrane and are used to move an entire cell.
19.   ExamplesCilia present in ParameciumFlagella present in Salmonella


  1. https://www.biologyexams4u.com/2012/10/difference-between-prokaryotic-flagella.html#.W2MZODozbIV
  2. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/mhccmajorsbio/chapter/4-6-flagella-and-cilia/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21698/
  4. https://www.biologyexams4u.com/2012/10/difference-between-cilia-and-flagella_10.html#.W2MTjTozbIU
  5. https://microbiologyinfo.com/differences-between-cilia-and-flagella/
  6. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Cilia_vs_Flagella
  7. https://biologywise.com/difference-between-cilia-flagella
  8. http://pediaa.com/difference-between-cilia-and-flagella/

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