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Sea Sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans)

Also known as the sea ghost or fire of the sea, the sea sparkle is a species of free-living marine dinoflagellate that is widely distributed throughout the world. Sea sparkles are often found along coasts, estuary and shallow areas of continental shelves. N.scintillans is a heterotroph (meaning it gets its own food)  and will feed on other plankton like diatoms, fish eggs, bacteria and even other dinoflagellates via phagocytosis. Unlike other dinoflagellates N.scintillans goes through a life cycle that has a diploid and a haploid phase. True to their name sea sparkles are capable of bioluminescene and when they congregate in high concentrations (usually from environmental conditions) they are known as red tides. Although they are known as ‘red tides’ not all sea sparkle blooms are red, and color is derived from the pigments of organism inside the vacuoles of the sea sparkles. When disturbed N.scintillans will bioluminesce and produce a blue light earning them the ominous names of sea ghost and fire of the sea.

Phylogeny

Chromalveolata-Dinoflagellata-Noctiluciphyceae-Noctilucales-Noctilucaceae-Noctiluca-N. scintillans

Images: Maria Antonia Sampayo and Hans Hillewaert

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