This image of a tiny crustacean called a copepod is one of the winners of this year's Nikon Small World photography competition. At Deep Sea News, blogger ParaSight explains how the photographer, scientist Jan Michels, got the shot:
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That right there is one gorgeous copepod, one of the bigger and more important groups of planktonic crustaceans. It looks huge but is actually tiny; probably 1-2mm. You can see how much richer and more detailed the image is (although the colour is stained flouresence, not natural). That particular image uses a technique called confocal microscopy, which uses lasers and clever optics to achieve great depth of field (where everything is in focus).
Phytoplankton are tiny, plant-like organisms that live in the ocean and are, basically, at the very bottom of the food chain. But, sometimes, they get their revenge. When lots and lots and lots of phytoplankton get together, they can form what we call a "red tide," a discoloration of the water at a particular point where the plankton have become densely concentrated.
Some red tides are natural. Others happen when nutrient runoff from farm fertilizers creates a massive buffet for plankton. Some red tides can kill, as the plankton can produce toxins and their deaths reduce the oxygen content of the water. And sometimes, red tides glow in the dark.
The phytoplankton in this red tide off a California beach are bioluminescent. Their cells produce a chemical reaction that creates a soft, blue-green glow. It's basically the same thing that makes lightning bugs light. In this video by Loghan Call and Man's Best Media, you can see plankton light up in the beach (and a few surfers).
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