Sea sparkles (Noctiluca scintilans) from the Oosterschelde. The tentacle is clearly visible. By “scrolling” through the cell with the focus button of the microscope you can see that it is a sphere.

  • Taxonomy

    Kingdom: Protists
    Phylum: Dinoflagellates
    Class: Dinophyceae
    Order: Noctilucales
    Genus: Noctiluca

  • Location

    marine waters

  • Size

    0.2 – 1 mm


Sea sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans) is a single-celled dinoflagellate that is heterotrophic; they eat algae and even small zooplankton. For a single-celled, the sea sparkle is enormous, up to one millimetre in size. Sea sparkles looks like a sphere with a tentacle. With this tentacle the sea sparkle makes a mucous thread with which the food is collected, which is absorbed and digested in the cell. Sea sparkles can also live in symbiosis with diatoms that live inside the cell and provide energy through photosynthesis.

Sea sparkles are best known for its ability to give light through bioluminescence. After a disturbance the cell gives a blue light pulse. Why they do this is not entirely certain, perhaps to scare off enemies. The “light of the sea” caused by sea sparkle is especially visible on warm, windless summer evenings. Even during a night dive it is beautiful, turn off your diving torch, take your hand through the water and you will be surrounded by a cloud of blue sparks!

A sea sparkle (Noctiluca scintilans) from the Oosterschelde.