Spotlight on plankton, the ocean’s fascinating, bite-sized creatures


Every night, plankton take a journey to shallower waters to feed, prompting predators to follow in search of a very small, but tasty, snack. These images are taken from a new book, Planktonia, illuminating their daily ascent


7 December 2022

New Scientist Default Image

Jeff Milisen

DAZZLINGLY unusual, these images of marine creatures, comprising plankton and other organisms, illuminate a journey that happens every day under the cover of darkness – as detailed in the new book, Planktonia: The nightly migration of the ocean’s smallest creatures, by researcher and conservationist Erich Hoyt.

I was out exploring the open ocean at night, when my dive buddy flashed her light to show me this. At first it looked like a lion???s mane jelly, with hair flailing all about. But as I looked closer, eyes appeared, then fins, then, finally, the lure took shape. I knew I was watching something amazing, but I had no idea what it was! Months later, the photo found its way to an expert who was able to identify it. This is the first time Lophiodes fimbriatus has ever been observed in Hawaii, and possibly the third time it has been seen, ever!

Jeff Milisen

The subtitle refers to the daily underwater ascent undertaken by these tiny, drifting organisms to feed in shallower waters when the sun sets. This prompts predators such as fish and squid to follow in their wake, tempted by the promise of a taste of plankton.

New Scientist Default Image

Mike Bartick Saltwaterphoto

Aside from providing a snack, however, plankton are also globally important: they sustain all life in the ocean by maintaining food webs and producing oxygen and nutrients and many of them sequester carbon dioxide, so help to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Variety of plankton (zooplankton) are attracted by the light of a diver?s torch, at night. Bitung, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Lembeh Strait, Molucca Sea.

Alex Mustard/NaturePL

Predators of the animal component of plankton, called zooplankton (pictured above, illuminated by an underwater camera), include the tropical two wing flying fish (top image), the hairy goosefish (second image) and the immortal jellyfish (third image), the latter is so named because of its regenerative ability, which may hold clues to human ageing. Despite what you see here, it is only a few millimetres in size.

New Scientist Default Image

Linda Lanniello

Unidentified juvenile eel or Moray eel photographed at night, Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines. The eel is curled up to confuse predators, and its transparent body helps it look less conspicuous. Minimum fees apply.

Magnus Lundgren/naturepl

The images above also shows a larval tripod fish (top image), which is about 2 centimetres long and an eel larva (pictured above), nearly transparent at this early stage of its life. These are both zooplankton, says Hoyt, but “even the zooplankton are often hunting other zooplankton, so they’re all predators in that sense”.

More on these topics:


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *