Noctiluca scintillans is a bioluminescent organism. This organism is fairly well known for the beautiful light show it puts on in the sea. It is more commonly known as the sea sparkle because of the bluish light that can be seen “sparkling” in the ocean at night. Unlike some other bioluminescent organisms that rely on bacteria, Noctiluca scintillans has a luciferin-luciferase chemical reaction within the cell that gives this organism the bioluminescent quality (Oceana 2013).

    The luciferin-luciferase reaction is very similar to the reaction seen in fireflies when they light up. However, unlike fireflies, that use this characteristic as a form of a mating call, Noctiluca scintillans are thought to use this bioluminescence as a defense mechanism (Buskey et al. 1992). One theory is that if there are predators near, Noctiluca scintillans lights up and creates the sparkling effect that they are so well known for. The light attracts larger predators that aren’t interested in eating Noctiluca scintillans; these predators eat or scare away the smaller predators that would normally feed on Noctiluca scintillans. It is also thought that the light may just startle the predator and scare them away (Valiadi et al. 2012). Noctiluca scinitllans is just one of many bioluminescent organisms including Kryptophanaron alfredi and Photinus ignitus.

      Noctiluca scintillans cannot swim; they float with the current (Fukuda and Endoh 2006). Unlike most dinoflagellates, Noctiluca scintillans has only one flagellum, where most have two. It also has a tentacle that is much larger and more noticeable than the flagellum. The tentacle is used to collect food (Kiorboe and Titelman 1998).

    Because Noctiluca scintillans and their prey are both immotile, they need a way to sense and capture their prey. They use their tentacle for this purpose. Sometimes, they will have a string of mucus attached to the end of their tentacle that aids them in sensing and capturing prey. Their prey may either hit the tentacle directly and be brought into the oral cavity or it may become trapped in the string of mucus, which is then rolled up into the oral cavity (Kiorboe and Titelman 1998).
    Noctiluca scintillans is a positively buoyant organism. They are less dense than seawater, so they float near the surface. They are able to control their buoyancy by adjusting concentrations within the cell (Oceana 2012). This helps them ascend slightly deeper into the water to capture prey. You can learn more about the buoyancy of Noctiluca scintillans in the Interactions page.

Now that you better understand the form and function of Noctiluca scintillans, you are able to learn more about this dinoflagellate's Reproduction. If you would like to start fresh on this website, please visit the Homepage.