[Bioluminescence at night on a beach. Photo source: Google search.]
You find yourself sitting up in bed at 2:30 am and thinking of dinoflagellates, the Valium hasn’t kicked in, your partner is in REM sleep and softly mumbling Bono Bono and your supply of Sleepy Time Tea has been deleted…you’re not alone.
I, too, suffer the same night terrors. I feel your pain. Several nights ago, sleep couldn’t find me nor could I find sleep. It was 2:17 am. I picked up a magazine and began reading an article about how to keep mud from getting stuck in the treads of your car’s tires. I finished the lengthly piece and looked down at my copy of David Copperfield.
Should I pick it up and start where I left it three years ago, on page 346. But it wasn’t to be. My mind kept going back to dinoflagellates.
What brought comfort to my restless soul that night, I cannot say for certain. But I decided to go down to my office and find a copy of a marine science textbook. I went through book after book. There it was…The Secret Life of Dinoflagellates. I brought the heavy glossy-paged book back to bed and began to read.
It was so heavy, it left a strange imprint on my abdomen.
I was vaguely aware of the existence of dinoflagellates when I studied geology in college forty-six years ago. That’s why I was vaguely aware, I had forgotten most of the facts I once knew.
To put it simply, dinoflagellates are two-edged swords in the form of a single-celled organism. On the good side, they are responsible for bioluminescence, the strange glow-in-the-dark phenomenon of the oceans. The eerie blue light is awesome to behold. [See the lead illustration.] Sailors proclaim that a glowing sea on the darkest of nights is a sight they will never forget…something like seeing the bow of a freighter fifty feet away, coming straight out of the fog bank and straight at your boat.
On the downside of dinoflagellates is that they are the cause of the dreaded red tide. Yes, the waves are tinted red. The dinoflagellates are eaten by bivalves (clams and the like). If you had ordered such a plate of these clams at the Ancient Mariner Restaurant and consumed it you would soon be begging for an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian…cause you’re gonna pay the piper…as the saying goes.
Here some advice about how to live with dinoflagellates:
- Go sailing at night off some island in the Caribbean and be stricken silent with the beauty of the blue/green bioluminescence.
- Avoid areas where the red tide is present. Ask around. Maybe go for the spaghetti and meatball option.
So, stop losing sleep over dinoflagellates. Lose sleep over climate change instead. That will bring on worse things that any single-celled organism.
[Some of the facts are from the June 22, 2019 issue of The Economist. The rest is just stuff I already knew.]