Glycosylation is a highly diverse set of co- and post-translational modification of proteins. For mammalian glycoproteins, glycosylation is often site-, tissue- and species-specific, and diversified by microheterogeneity. Multitudinous biochemical, cellular, physiological and organismic effects of their glycans have been revealed, either intrinsic to the carrier proteins or mediated by endogenous reader proteins with carbohydrate recognition domains. Furthermore, glycans frequently form the first line of access by or defense from foreign invaders, and new roles for nucleocytoplasmic glycosylation are blossoming. We now know enough to conclude that the same general principles apply in invertebrate animals and unicellular eukaryotes – different branches of which spawned the plants or fungi and animals. The two major driving forces for exploring the glycomes of invertebrates and protists are (i) to understand the biochemical basis of glycan-driven biology in these organisms, especially of pathogens, and (ii) to uncover the evolutionary relationships between glycans, their biosynthetic enzyme genes, and biological functions for new glycobiological insights. With an emphasis on emerging areas of protist glycobiology, here we offer an overview of glycan diversity and evolution, to promote future access to this treasure trove of glycobiological processes.